Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”

Chamber members:

The state veto session is around the corner and opinions are starting to be shared on what the main topics of interest will be. Task forces have also been formed to look deeper into AI and regional public transit here in the Chicago area.

Congratulations to Denise Winfrey, who was honored today as the 2023 ATHENA Award recipient! Denise has a long history of public service here in Will County.

*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*

Veto session priorities stacking up for Illinois legislators
From energy policy to the Invest in Kids Act, Illinois legislators returning to Springfield next month are already laying out their expectations. State Sen. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said the fight of the fall session is going to be renewing the privately funded Invest in Kids school choice scholarship program. The program gives a 75% state income tax credit for donations but expires at the end of the year.

Chesney said a bipartisan approach to lift the nuclear moratorium Gov. J.B. Pritzker vetoed will also be top of mind. “To have a more balanced energy approach to support the changing habits that are being dictated by the government,” Chesney said.

State Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Morrisonville, expects energy policy will be a dominating factor during fall session. “You gotta choose between powering your vehicle or powering your air conditioning,” Rosenthal said. “Whether solar panels and wind can generate enough electricity to continue to meet all of our needs has yet to be seen.”

Lawmakers may also consider Pritzker’s veto of a measure giving right of first refusal to Ameren Illinois when constructing electric transmission lines. “I think it’s very important,” Rosenthal remarked. “One thing is we need to make sure that we have a source of electricity as more electric vehicles come online and recharging goes on.”

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said he hopes to move forward with allowing small modular nuclear reactors and other priorities during veto session. “Accept the amendatory veto on the private-public partnerships so that we can move forward with some of the biggest construction jobs we’re going to be facing here in Illinois,” Hoffman said. “As we move forward to be closer to veto session, I think we’ll be sitting down with the governor’s office to determine a course of action.”

Governor Pritzker expects Illinois’ estate tax to be addressed by legislature
Illinois lawmakers are expected to address a measure that would change the state’s estate tax value from $4 million up to $12 million, according to Governor J.B. Pritzker. The state’s estate tax kicks in when someone inherits a property or assets valued at $4 million or more, requiring the inheritance to pay a tax on the assets. According to state data, the Attorney General’s office collected more than $456 million in estate tax revenues for the fiscal year 2022.

A measure by state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, would raise the limit from $4 million to $12 million, reducing the impact on some taxpayers. Pritzker on Tuesday addressed the proposed change. “That is something that will be considered in the next upcoming session, no doubt about it,” Pritzker said. “It will be important to consider around that, what the effect on the state budget would be, what the effect on families would be, is that the right threshold to have for the estate tax for the state of Illinois? All of which I will take into consideration.”

Lawmakers return for fall veto session in late October.

State Rep. Chris Miller, R-Charleston, recently remarked that the tax should be eliminated altogether. “The first option would be to abolish the estate tax. We pay taxes our whole life while we are living, and the first thing that happens when you die is they want to tax your cold, dead body,” Miller said.

Miller said the state is taking advantage of the taxpayers with the estate tax. “It’s one of the continued abuses of hardworking middle-class working families that have worked their whole lives to gain something,” Miller said. Governor Pritzker said lawmakers will discuss the change and figure out what works for Illinoisans. Miller said he does not trust those words.

“There has been very little pro-business and pro-family legislation to make life better for working-class citizens in Illinois,” Miller said. “There is a reason why Ronald Reagan made the comment that the most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I am from the government and I am here to help you.'” The estate tax affects farmers throughout the state as many keep their land in their families after death.

State creates task force to consider merits, needed regulations for AI
Joining a host of states across the country, Illinois is taking a hard look at the emerging presence of artificial intelligence — a computer technology that can perform problem-solving and decision-making typically seen by humans — by considering its possibilities while weighing its risks. How the state started this process is the creation of a task force combining the brains of legislators and technology experts to craft AI policy recommendations to the legislature.

Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, D-Bridgeview, is co-chairing the Generative AI and Natural Language Processing Task Force, chosen by House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch for the freshman legislator’s computer science background. Rashid’s bill, House Bill 3563, received unanimous support before being signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker in early August.

The task force will consist of 20 members and hold at least five public meetings in Chicago, Springfield, Metro East, Quad Cities and Southern Illinois. The summation of these meetings will lead to a report shared with the governor’s office and the General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2024.

Rashid said in an interview last month the task force will balance needed regulations on AI while not stifling innovation. Forming any specific legislation will take time, he said, but will focus on tackling transparency issues and whether the technology may discriminate or have biases. “We have to be careful about the simple accuracy of what AI does,” he said. “I think sometimes people take for granted that what AI thinks is right and that’s not necessarily the case.”

Increased conversations on how governments can and should use the technology have occurred across the country and Illinois is no different. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 25 states along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia introduced AI bills so far in 2023.

Illinois to award $20 million to address food insecurity
Millions of Illinois residents are living in food deserts without convenient access to nutrition, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a bill to combat food insecurity with $20 million in taxpayer funding.

The Illinois Grocery Initiative, funded through a measure signed on Aug. 18, offers incentives for new or expanded grocery stores in underserved rural or urban areas, often called food deserts. The bill also fuels research into food insecurity in a state, where at least 3 million residents are reported to live in food deserts without access to good nutrition, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Although food insecurity has spiked tremendously since the pandemic, representatives of the Northern Illinois Food Bank see the bill as a positive step. “We’re excited when the state wants to invest in supporting our communities and our neighbors and especially those facing food insecurity,” commented Maeven Sipes, the agency’s chief philanthropy officer.

Along with funds to encourage economic growth for grocery stores, research into food insecurity could help attack the problem, Sipes said. “We really believe the more we know about our neighbors and our community and their needs, the more we are going to be able to design solutions,” she said.

Sipes explained that transportation issues often create obstacles to healthy food, forcing those in need to shop in neighborhood convenience stores. While this bill will not fund food banks or pantries, they too may benefit, she said. That’s because grocery stores often contribute excess stock. “We are serving more neighbors now than ever,” Sipes said.

She puts the number of Northern Illinois Food Bank clients at approximately 490,000 every month for a 70 % increase since the COVID-19 pandemic. “Even though things like unemployment are lower, especially than during the peak of the pandemic, with inflation and with reduced government benefits, neighbors are still having trouble getting everything that they need and stretching their budgets and using their limited resources,” Sipes said. In the last year alone, the food bank has seen a 30% increase in demand for food, according to Sipes.

Hoping that the law will bring relief, Pritzker said in his news release the initiative “is the latest expansion of our holistic approach to ensuring Illinois families can reach the big building blocks of a good life.” The release notes that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will launch a study into the reasons for food insecurity and the growth of food deserts to better understand the problem.

New Plan Pitches ‘Big, Bold Solutions’ to Transform Regional Public Transit in Chicago Area
Unprecedented regional coordination, $1.5 billion in new annual funding and a push to transform service and draw in more riders than ever. Those are just some of the ambitious ideas up for debate as part of an effort to create a bold new vision for public transit in the Chicago area.

With CTA, Metra and Pace facing a looming fiscal cliff when COVID-19 relief money dries up, state lawmakers charged the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning with creating a plan of action for regional public transit — which backers say is an opportunity for transformational change. According to the draft plan, lawmakers asked for “big, bold solutions.”

“The risk of inaction is just great,” said Erin Aleman, CMAP executive director. “When we think about the totality of our mobility system is here across the region, making sure that people have opportunities to get to jobs, to visit friends, to educational institutions, having a multimodal network is really important.”

Among the key principles that guided the group of civic leaders and stakeholders who worked on the plan along with CMAP staff were making transit more seamless across different modes and agencies; improving the speed and ease of bus travel; better linking Metra and CTA rail lines; and making transit safer and more accessible, both at stations and stops as well as via paratransit.

“(We were told) to be bold, to really think about how the system should be post-pandemic and not the system that we had in 2019, but that we should really be thinking about transformational change,” Aleman said. The recently released draft plan outlines two new funding formulas, one that would create “transformational” change and one that would create “meaningful” change.

Presenting the draft plan at a public meeting of the steering committee Wednesday morning, CMAP staff urged stakeholders to back the transformational option — which would involve $1.5 billion in new annual funding. “When we started this journey together, the conversation was about the immediate crisis that was in front of us, the fiscal cliff in 2026,” said Elizabeth Scott, CMAP principal policy analyst. While developing the plan, Scott said, the true opportunity that began to present itself was finding “the resources needed to build the system the region truly wants.”

Staffers stressed that the plan is a starting point and the funding sources could change, but highlighted the fact that the current transit funding model dates back to the 1980s. The new funding package laid out in the draft report includes increased state funding, a $10 per car hike in the vehicle registration fee, an expanded sales tax base and cost savings and fare increases from the transit system, among other proposals. “We know that no one solution is going to be sufficient on its own,” Scott said.

Another major change included in the draft report would be doing away with the current iterations of the three transit boards: CTA, Metra and Pace. Instead, a regional board would oversee the majority of transit and business functions while CTA, Metra and Pace committees, as well as a new paratransit/on-demand committee, would oversee transit operations and daily choices about service.

A second option would leave the three current boards intact but strengthen the role of the RTA. Some committee members expressed concern at the meeting that providing a second, less drastic option will be the one state lawmakers naturally gravitate toward.

“I think there’s a broad recognition that our transit system is valuable to our communities,” Aleman said. “Many of our communities grew up around a train station. People bought houses in those communities because they were able to access transit, and there’s small business owners that really depend on people being able to get to their jobs through that transit system. Losing a number of those assets would be a huge detriment to our region.”

Following the announcement, influential business groups have raised concerns about some of the proposed recommendations, pushing back on a concept to expand the sales tax base and questioning whether instead of seeking to enhance transit, the planners should focus instead on the reality of still-diminished ridership. “I’m not sure the report’s grounded in reality,” said Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, who was part of a committee advising on the proposals.

Denzler said the recommendations should take into account that ridership remains down and isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels for years. He would have liked to see recommendations around so-called first mile and last-mile programs, which seek to fill the gap for the last stretch of commute between a rider’s workplace and the end of the transit route.

Any expansion of sales taxes for use by transit would be a heavy lift in Springfield. Should the sales tax base be expanded, other programs and agencies are looking to use the new revenue to fill their own budget holes, Denzler said. “How do you really make the system more efficient?” he said. “How do you really make it work for what the needs are, as opposed to, ‘we’re going to build a brand-new shiny system.’”

Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jack Lavin, who was also part of the group that advised CMAP, called for reform of the three transit agencies, a deeper look at what kind of fares current demand will support, and examining possible cost savings by the agencies before turning to new sources of public funding for transit. Pension payments pose a significant cost, and should also be studied, he said.

The chamber is opposed to any expansion of the sales tax, whether for transit or another use, or a congestion tax that would impose a fee on drivers under certain circumstances. Such a tax would drive down return to office numbers, he said.

CMAP has floated the idea of a fee on drivers who enter a certain area, like the central business district downtown, as a way to account for increased congestion and bad air quality caused by driving, and a way to incentivize drivers to consider other ways of getting around. “We’re opposed to those taxes,” Lavin said. “We understand transit is very important to the regional economy, so we need to get to a resolution. But those two taxes, we’re opposed to.”

Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and another member of the advisory committee, took issue with what he described as an “if you build it, they will come” approach taken by the report to solving public transit’s challenges. The recommendations seemingly failed to take into account the current low ridership, he said.

“We are all about moving people, tourists, they’re our employees, they’re our shoppers. But we also have to be conscious of the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of the entire system, because our members also pay that,” he said, referring to property and sales taxes.

Whether any of the CMAP ideas are ultimately enacted will come down to the state legislature. The CMAP committee that oversees the plan’s development is set to meet Sept. 13 to vote on the report. The full CMAP board is scheduled to meet on Oct. 11.

Stay well,

Mike Paone
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct