“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Federal government funding runs out Friday, and the question is whether the new House speaker’s plan will be able to fix it. Recent action suggests all will be fine until the subject comes up yet again in a few months. The Illinois General Assembly’s two-week fall veto session that concluded last Thursday was marked more by what did not happen than what did. More on each below along with other news going on in today’s roundup.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*
Congress Rushes Again Towards Shutdown
Congress is barreling towards a government shutdown this week as Friday’s funding deadline inches closer, with House Republicans originally at odds over Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) pitch to keep the lights on in Washington.
Johnson unveiled an unconventional two-step stopgap bill, which would extend funding at current levels for some agencies until mid-January and the rest through early February. That proposal divided the fractious House GOP conference, with some hardline conservatives voicing opposition to the legislation because of the lack of spending cuts. Top Democrats, meanwhile, had come out against Johnson’s plan, criticizing the “laddered” approach and denouncing the lack of aid for Israel or Ukraine in the legislation.
Johnson’s plan to avert a shutdown has thrown the fate of supplemental spending on Ukraine, Israel and the border into limbo. The two-deadline continuing resolution keeps the government funded at its current levels but contains no additional funding, despite the White House requesting money weeks ago and multiple congressional leaders’ repeated assertions that the money is a priority.
It would mark the second time Congress punts on the supplemental as they work to keep the government’s lights on, stoking fears it may never get done. One Senate Republican leader said they’re still not giving up, as lawmakers hope to pass something by the end of the year.
Clues on Monday suggested members in both parties and in both chambers were getting behind a temporary solution proposed by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) before a deadline Friday at midnight.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Democrats might support the Speaker’s two-bill plan to fund the government in tranches that would expire early next year. There would be no deep spending cuts or ideological riders sought by conservatives. With Democratic votes, Johnson could afford to let some of his GOP hardline colleagues vote “no” and still keep the government operating, likely without the dramatic mutiny that cost former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the gavel just weeks ago.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday also signaled openness to the Johnson plan after a lukewarm reception from some senators and the White House on Sunday. He called it “far from perfect” but said the proposal could work.
Under the two-track temporary compromise, the House would extend funding for military construction, veterans’ benefits, transportation, housing, urban development, agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and energy and water programs through Jan. 19. Funding for all other federal operations, including defense, would expire on Feb. 2.
Remaining unresolved are elements of President Biden’s request to Congress for a total of $105 billion in supplemental funding to assist Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and U.S. border security. The president asked for $61.4 billion for Ukraine, $14.3 billion in help for Israel (including $9.15 billion in humanitarian aid), $7.4 billion in funding for Taiwan and the region and $13.6 billion to bolster the U.S. border with Mexico. Lawmakers suggest the aid debate may extend beyond November.
A House vote Tuesday to keep the government funded for a few more weeks suggests that the next big partisan budget battle over spending cuts and policy overhauls may be deferred until January. The Senate will act before a Friday deadline after the House voted 336 to 95 Tuesday to approve a temporary approach to avert a government shutdown.
Averting a shutdown is this week’s overriding bipartisan aim, which diluted the leverage of firebrands who said they would not flinch if there was a lapse in funding. In the end, 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans voted aye. Ninety-three Republicans opposed the continuing resolution (CR), as did two Democrats.
The House-passed plan is expected to clear the Senate, and President Biden would sign it. After consulting with the president’s team, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed relief that deep spending cuts and Republican policy riders were not part of Johnson’s plan. He said he agreed, along with the White House, “that if this can avoid a shutdown, it will be a good thing.”
The temporary bill would give lawmakers in both chambers more time to pass and negotiate full-year spending bills — although the House and Senate are nowhere near an agreement on those — and avoid a massive year-end spending bill called an omnibus. It could still trigger two more standoffs that lead to partial government shutdowns early next year.
Illinois Veto Session
One prominent legislative item that advanced from a limited list of bills was a proposal that partially rolled back the state’s moratorium on new nuclear power construction. Meanwhile, several other measures, such as the extension of a tax credit program for private school scholarships, a bill permitting legislative staff to unionize, and a measure overseeing the election of the Chicago School Board, have encountered delays and are now on hold until at least the following year. Lawmakers are set to reconvene for their regular session spanning from January to May.
While a handful of other measures did pass, including one focused on streamlining professional licensing and another aiming to electrify the state’s vehicle fleet by 2030, the overall narrative of the veto session was dominated by a lack of significant legislative activity.
Illinois lawmakers approve plan to allow small-scale nuclear development
Lawmakers on Thursday approved a proposal that would allow companies to develop new nuclear power generation in Illinois for the first time since 1987. House Bill 2473 does not entirely lift the 36-year-old moratorium on nuclear construction. Instead, it creates a regulatory structure for the construction of small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs.
Proponents say it is a step to make the ongoing transition away from fossil fuels more reliable for customers throughout the state, while opponents warn the unproven technology comes with safety risks and the potential for cost overruns.
Lawmakers decline to extend private school scholarship tax credit program
Despite persistent lobbying from Republicans and the visible presence of advocates sporting blue ‘Save My Scholarship’ T-shirts around the Capitol, legislators departed without extending the $75 million ‘Invest in Kids’ program, which offers needs-based scholarships. The five-year-old program, responsible for granting approximately 40,000 scholarships, is set to conclude on December 31, 2023.
Supporters of the initiative argue that, without the tax incentives, the scholarship organizations will struggle to generate the funds they’ve amassed in recent years. Consequently, an estimated 9,600 students currently benefiting from these scholarships may be forced to seek alternative means to finance their education or transition to their local public schools. In contrast, teachers’ unions welcomed the conclusion of a program they assert diverts resources away from public schools.
Lawmakers pass bill aimed at modernizing professional licensing in Illinois
In the midst of Illinois grappling with shortages of healthcare practitioners and mental health professionals, the state agency responsible for licensing across more than 100 industries, including these critical fields, has encountered significant challenges.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) has fallen short of its objectives to expedite both initial licensing and renewals in key sectors, all while facing a 15 percent surge in applications between 2019 and 2022. This escalating situation was characterized as a “crisis” by the IDFPR’s director during testimony at a committee hearing earlier this fall, highlighting the pressing issues confronting the agency.
In response to these challenges, the General Assembly recently passed a measure aimed at aiding IDFPR in overcoming its outdated systems and providing temporary relief for those awaiting license renewal. The unanimous approval of this measure in the General Assembly signifies a bipartisan effort to address the agency’s issues, and it now awaits only the governor’s signature to be enacted into law.
Message from Illinois Chamber Board Chair Ann Deters: Lou Sandoval Named President and CEO of Illinois Chamber of Commerce
On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am thrilled to inform you that Lou Sandoval has been selected as the next President and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
Lou’s appointment follows a national search led by Koya Partners, an executive recruiting firm focused on mission-driven leadership. As the search process unfolded, it became increasingly clear to our Search Committee that Lou would be the ideal person to lead the Chamber in this next chapter.
Lou comes to us after a successful career in the private sector, as both a business owner and a consultant across a variety of industries in Illinois. As President and Managing Partner of the Halo Advisory Group, Sandoval has advised both early-stage growth companies and Fortune 500 clients on go-to-market strategies, scalability, change management, and mergers and acquisitions. Previously he held executive leadership roles at NAUTIC-ON, a Brunswick Corporation brand focused on providing technology and business solutions to the recreational boating industry. For nearly 20 years, Sandoval founded and led his marine dealership, which served customers throughout the Western Great Lakes Region.
Lou is an Independent Board Director for Wintrust Bank N.A. In addition, he is a member of the Board of Trustees of Epic Academy, the Executive Board of Pathway to Adventure Council, and the Board of Advisors for DePaul University and Kognitive Networks. Previously, he led the Chicago Yacht Club’s Board of Directors as its Commodore. He is a proud Eagle Scout and served on the Northeast Council Board of the Boy Scouts of America. He also was appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner to the Illinois River Coordinating Council and co-chaired the Latino Advisory Committee for U.S. Senator Mark Kirk.
Lou is a graduate of DePaul University and is an adjunct faculty member for Hispanic & Latino Executive Leadership in McKinsey & Company’s Connect Leaders Program.
As a business leader and former business owner, Lou understands first-hand what it takes to lead and build successful enterprises in our state. He’s passionate about making Illinois a vibrant place for all businesses to thrive and is dedicated to working with business leaders and policy makers across our state to drive a new wave of growth and innovation. That combination of experience and vision make him an ideal person to lead our next chapter.
His first official day as our new CEO & President will be Monday, November 27th.
We look forward to welcoming Lou to the Chamber and to introducing him to all of you in the days ahead. As we do so, we also want to express our gratitude to you for your dedication to our work – and for your patience as we have worked through our selection process. We are grateful for your continued commitment to our mission.
Illinois Awarded Additional $11.25 Million Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has been awarded an $11.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to support continued modernization, fraud defense, and equitable access to unemployment insurance (UI) systems nationwide. Illinois was one of 19 states and territories selected to receive more than $204 million in federal funds to help make UI systems more reliable and accessible to users.
This is the sixth UI modernization award IDES has received from U.S. DOL, totaling nearly $30 million, to better strengthen, streamline, and enhance the customer experience and accessibility of the UI program and defend against fraud. Previous grant awards have focused on fraud prevention and detection and begun to fund equity-focused projects, all grounded in using expanded data to identify potential inequities in the unemployment pipeline within underrepresented groups. Using new demographic data and user insights, the Department intends to refine UI service delivery technology, processes, and communications for more equitable access and experience. This includes making UI information easier to understand, translating information into multiple languages, expanded self-service digital options, and increased outreach to community level organizations.
“IDES remains fully committed to enhancing accessibility, improving the claimant experience, and strengthening the defense of the UI system, all of which are long-term projects supported by these grant awards,” said IDES Acting Director Ray Marchiori. “The Department is proud to be one of the grantees selected to receive these funds and will continue to leverage as much federal funding as possible to make critical modernization improvements in Illinois.”
IDES has partnered and worked closely with U.S. DOL on cutting edge user research over the past year, analyzing more than 300,000 survey responses directly from claimants about their experiences applying for UI and conducting live claimant filing observation to identify burdens and challenges for applicants. This research is informing new future technological upgrades to the online claim application and user portal.
“The U.S. Department of Labor prioritizes the modernization of the nation’s unemployment insurance systems and making them more accessible, efficient and secure,” said Laurence Bafundo, Director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Unemployment Insurance Modernization. “Through the recent award of an IT modernization grant to Illinois, the Department of Labor continues its partnership to help the state make measurable improvements to their customer experience and adopt modular approaches that make technology easier to change and maintain.”
U.S. DOL announced this current grant opportunity, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, for states in July 2023 to continue to support UI system improvements nationwide.
Rebates for electric vehicles again available for Illinois motorists
A new round of electric vehicle rebates for Illinois motorists opened earlier this week, opening the door to another estimated 3,000 applicants.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will send out up to $12 million in rebates until June 30 through the Illinois Electric Vehicle Rebate Program. The previous round expires on Jan. 31. Applicants can receive a $4,000 rebate for purchasing an all-electric automobile and a $1,500 rebate for an electric motorcycle.
This electric vehicle charging station is on the grounds of the state Capitol complex. State regulators are in the process of defining several of the state’s next steps toward putting 1 million electric vehicles on state roads by 2030.
Anyone interested in receiving a rebate can file online with IEPA, but also must meet a set of criteria. Applications must be postmarked within 90 days of purchasing an electric vehicle and within the current cycle that began on Wednesday, Nov. 1. Purchasers must also maintain ownership for at least a year.
The state’s push to increase electric vehicles is part of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker in 2021. A wide-ranging environmental policy phasing out carbon emissions by energy producers, CEJA calls for one million EVs on the road in Illinois by 2030.
“Thanks to our nation-leading Climate and Equitable Jobs Act’s innovative rebate program, ownership of an electric vehicle has never been more accessible and attainable in Illinois,” said Pritzker in a statement. The state has 85,870 EVs as of October according to data from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. “The livelihood of our neighborhoods depends on access to affordable, clean energy technology.”
IEPA also announced Friday the opening of a $27 million funding opportunity for those wishing to install charging stations at public locations. The application period ends on Dec. 22 and is expected to fund 675 fast charging ports, according to the agency.
Illinois EPA Announces Grant Opportunity to Fund Energy Efficiency Projects in Areas of Environmental Justice Concern
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director John J. Kim announced the Residential Energy Efficiency Trust Fund Grant Program – previously known as the Low-Income Residential Energy Efficiency Program or LIREE – with up to $5,000,000 in funding available for energy efficiency upgrades at single family or duplex residential properties. The Energy Efficiency Trust Fund Grant Program will benefit residents receiving housing assistance from a state or federal housing assistance program and located in areas of environmental justice concern. A Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) has been posted to the Agency’s website.
“Illinois is a national leader in the transformation to clean energy, and a key component of that is ensuring we are advancing energy equity in every community,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “I’m proud that the Illinois EPA is funding energy efficiency upgrades that will benefit Illinoisans receiving housing assistance and those who have historically faced environmental injustice. These families will see energy savings, reduced costs, and a healthier overall community.”
“Illinois EPA is pleased to offer this funding opportunity to promote energy equity,” said Director Kim. “Through these investments, we hope to conserve energy, lower utility bills, increase resident comfort, and improve building performance in environmental justice and high energy burden communities.”
Eligible applicants include public housing authorities, units of local government (municipalities, counties, or townships), or nonprofit organizations. Examples of eligible projects include window replacement, heating and cooling equipment retrofits, and lighting upgrades. Total project costs may range from $25,000 – $500,000 with a match requirement subject to total funding request.
Applications for the Energy Efficiency Trust Fund Grant Program NOFO will be accepted on a rolling basis and eligible properties will receive funding on a first come, first serve basis. For eligibility and application information, visit: https://epa.illinois.gov/topics/energy/energy-efficiency/energy-efficiency-trust-fund-grant.html.
Before applying to the grant program, applicants must be pre-qualified through the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA) Grantee Portal, https://gata.illinois.gov/.
The grant program will invest funding from the State of Illinois Energy Efficiency Trust Fund (20 ILCS 687/6-6). The Energy Efficiency Trust Fund was established to benefit residential electric customers through projects determined to reduce energy demand.
Illinois Economy on Track
With one-third of the fiscal year already underway, state tax revenue collections are maintaining a strong lead over the record-setting pace of the previous year.
As of the current fiscal year 2024, which commenced in July, state base revenues have surged ahead by $742 million when compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year, which concluded with the state accumulating $50.7 billion in revenue. Lawmakers had budgeted for approximately $50.6 billion in revenue for the ongoing year, while allocating $50.4 billion in spending.
This encouraging update is detailed in the monthly report from the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. Nevertheless, there’s still a considerable stretch of the fiscal year remaining, which concludes on June 30. The month of April, in particular, holds significant weight as income tax collections pour in, potentially shaping the state’s financial outlook.
Currently, personal income tax, sales tax, other state revenue sources, and federal revenues are all outpacing the previous year’s figures, although corporate income tax is slightly trailing behind. Additional insights on this can be found in the chart provided by Andrew Adams.
Meanwhile, the state’s economy appears to be thriving, as noted by COGFA’s Chief Economist Benjamin Varner, particularly in areas like consumer spending. While some economic forecasters anticipate a potential economic slowdown, attributed to factors such as high interest rates, the possibility of a government shutdown, the resumption of student loan repayments, and global political tensions, such predictions have surfaced consistently in recent years.
Varner acknowledges that these predicted economic hindrances have not impeded the continuous expansion of the economy in the past two years. The lingering question remains: how long can these potential economic obstacles be avoided before a substantial slowdown eventually takes place?
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry