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

Chamber members:

President Biden on Saturday signed a $1.2 trillion government funding bill to stave off a government shutdown, capping a frenetic sprint by lawmakers to pass the final batch of appropriations measures. Biden praised the measure as a compromise, and “good news for the American people.” The House passed the legislation Friday with a bipartisan 286-134 vote, which spurred a push among some conservatives to oust Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). The bill passed the Senate in a 74-24 vote early Saturday morning following hours of intense negotiations. This should be the last talk of a government shutdown for a handful of months.

If you hadn’t heard already, I80 construction work will really ramp up this summer. We welcomed IDOT Secretary Omer Osman to our member luncheon last week and he spoke about this and other projects. Below is information from a media conference this week explaining further details on the $1 billion plus transformative project through Joliet.

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I80 Work Progression
Progress continues this spring on the I80 project, focusing on the reconstruction of a 12-mile stretch of highway that is expected to significantly impact traffic flow through Joliet.
Preparatory work for the 2024 phase of construction is set to commence next week.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) recently presented details of the upcoming phase of the $1.3 billion I-80 project, spanning 16 miles from New Lenox through Joliet to Minooka. Initiated in 2021, the project aims for substantial completion by the close of 2028. IDOT has been engaged in bridge work and lane reconfigurations to facilitate construction, but this year marks the commencement of actual reconstruction along the main lanes within the construction zone.

The 12 miles slated for reconstruction this year extend from River Road in Minooka to Wheeler Avenue in Joliet and from Rowell Avenue in Joliet to Gougar Road in New Lenox. While two lanes in each direction will remain open, lane configurations will change, and shoulders will be closed, resulting in a construction zone that will impede traffic flow along much of the 16-mile corridor.

Additionally, smaller bridges will undergo reconstruction, and interchanges will continue to be upgraded along the corridor. However, the highlight of the project, the construction of new bridges over the Des Plaines River, is scheduled for commencement in 2026, as confirmed by Phil Gibson, IDOT’s resident engineer for the project.

In the immediate future:

  • Starting the week of April 1, overnight lane closures in both directions between Rowell Avenue and Gougar Road will occur from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to facilitate lane adjustments and set up the construction zone.
  • Beginning the week of April 8, crews will begin shifting westbound I-80 traffic between River and Ridge roads onto temporary pavement, necessitating overnight lane closures between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • During the week of April 15, eastbound I-80 will be diverted onto the westbound lanes between Ridge and River roads, with traffic separated by concrete barriers. This operation will require overnight lane closures from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Similar closures are anticipated in the ensuing months as the project progresses eastward into Joliet. Interchange enhancements are scheduled for Interstate 55, Larkin Avenue, Richards Street, and Briggs Street. The Richards Street interchange will be completely closed later this year and remain so until the end of 2025. The project also encompasses the addition of auxiliary lanes at interchanges to enhance I-80 access and facilitate highway exits.

Planned work will improve access and alleviate congestion along the highway. This segment of the highway being improved currently sees 80,000 vehicles a day with 25% of them being trucks.

More details on the project can be found on the IDOT website

Governor Pritzker Announces Plan for Transformative Capital Investments in Illinois Department of Corrections Facilities
Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) announced plans to dedicate capital funds to rebuild Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln and Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, addressing critical infrastructure needs at both facilities. The funding is included in the capital proposal the governor presented to the General Assembly as part of his FY25 budget proposal.

The capital investments will begin to address years of disinvestment in facilities built almost a century ago, saving the state hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance and annual upkeep costs. The capital investment plan will initially focus on rebuilding two facilities that have been identified as having the most significant deferred maintenance costs as the administration continues to assess the IDOC infrastructure and where additional investments might be needed.

“The capital funds dedicated to Stateville and Logan further demonstrate our commitment to continuing to rebuild and strengthen our state’s infrastructure,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “These investments will allow staff to work in modern and safe facilities, ensure those who are incarcerated can safely serve out their sentences, and save taxpayers hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance costs from years of neglect.”

IDOC will work with the Capital Development Board and stakeholders on a timeline and next steps, with work to begin pending capital appropriations in the FY25 budget. Based on assessments of each facility and land availability, it is anticipated that Stateville will be temporarily closed and demolished with a new facility to be built on its grounds. The status of Logan in the interim is still to be worked through with various stakeholders, and the location of the new facility is still being finalized.

The plan estimates construction costs will total between $805 to $935 million. Governor Pritzker’s proposed FY25 capital budget included $900 million in new funds to demolish and rebuild these facilities. Long-term, the projects are expected to save the state an average of $34 million in annual operations savings, over the long term, by lowering overtime, maintenance, and utility costs on the facilities. Rebuilding these facilities will also save the state hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance costs that have accrued after decades of neglect. These facilities were selected based on a 2023 CGL report the state contracted to identify and prioritize IDOC facility needs.

In accordance with the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) process, construction will not commence until all requirements of the State Facilities Closure Act are met. The design and build-out of the new facilities is anticipated to be completed over the next three to five years. IDOC will coordinate closely with staff at these facilities, organized labor, individuals in custody, and other stakeholders to ensure a smooth rebuilding process and the department is continuing its work to hire for a number of open positions.

“This plan marks a pivotal moment in IDOC’s ongoing efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and the individuals in our care,” said Latoya Hughes, Acting Director of IDOC. “These investments underscore Illinois’ unwavering commitment to implementing modernized and secure correctional environments while taking a fiscally responsible approach to address aging infrastructure.”

“The Illinois Justice Project has an essential goal to reduce the number of people in prison. We also support the elimination of any and all conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy or put those housed in the Illinois Department of Corrections at risk,” said Illinois Justice Project Director Ahmadou Dramé. “We will continue to work with advocates and policymakers alike to reduce incarceration and create humane conditions for those who are incarcerated.”

Pritzker Administration Provides Nearly $300 Million in Emergency Mortgage Assistance
Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) released the “Illinois Homeowner Assistance Fund Final Report,” highlighting the distribution of $298.6 million in emergency mortgage assistance that helped 16,845 households avoid foreclosure across the state.

“Here in the Land of Lincoln, we’re working to ensure housing access and affordability in an ever-changing economy,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Through the Illinois Homeowner Assistance Fund, we supported individuals and families to keep their homes rather than facing foreclosure. I’m grateful for IHDA’s work to rapidly deploy emergency assistance to Illinoisans as they navigated financial difficulties.”

Created through the State’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2), the Illinois Homeowner Assistance Fund (ILHAF) was administered by IHDA to provide relief to households still reeling from financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These impacts were widespread, but were particularly prevalent among low-income families, people of color, and those least able to weather financial hardships.

“The Illinois Homeowner Assistance Fund was born out of the unprecedented economic strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond having serious consequences for public health, the pandemic had a lasting ripple effect on every inch of Americans’ lives, including some families’ ability to pay their rent or mortgage,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).  “I’m grateful for the support ILHAF, funded through the American Rescue Plan, offered Illinoisans in need during the pandemic.”

Focusing on preventing mortgage delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures, ILHAF began accepting applications on April 11, 2022, and closed on October 31, 2023. Eligible homeowners could receive up to $60,000 in grant assistance. Allowable uses for homeowners included catching up on past due mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and/or flood insurance payments, homeowner/condominium association fees, and mobile home lot rent. After the applicant’s delinquent mortgage or non-mortgage housing costs were reinstated, households could also receive future mortgage assistance for up to three months to maintain housing stability.

“The American Rescue Plan provided more than $300 million to help ensure Illinois homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t have to worry about foreclosure or being evicted from their homes and communities,” U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said. “Thanks to President Biden, Governor Pritzker and the Democrats who put working families first, our hardest-hit residents were able to access vital resources to help prevent mass displacement while they recovered from the pandemic’s financial impacts. I’ll continue to do all I can at the federal level so that Illinois’ most vulnerable continue to receive the support they need.”

To ensure funding assisted historically underserved communities and socially disadvantaged residents, ILHAF partnered with a network of 58 housing counseling agencies, community-based organizations, and legal aid organizations that provided essential outreach and on-the-ground support to homeowners in their communities. These services were offered in all 102 counties, at no cost to the applicant, and in 35 unique languages.

“IHDA’s work is rooted in the financing and preservation of affordable housing throughout Illinois; however, in times of crisis, we have been called upon to offer guidance and support to provide housing relief to individuals and families,” said IHDA Executive Director Kristin Faust. “As foreclosure rates continued to rise, we knew relief funds needed to get into the hands of Illinois’ most vulnerable homeowners efficiently and swiftly in order to keep them housed. ILHAF was designed to prioritize those most at-risk for housing instability. I want to thank Governor Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly for entrusting IHDA to deliver this assistance on behalf of the State.”

While accessibility and efficiency were priorities in the distribution of the ILHAF assistance, key safeguards and controls were also put in place and regularly evaluated to prevent fraud and misuse.

Final Report Highlights

  • 46,060 applications were received from all 102 IL counties.
  • $298,618,622 in assistance provided.
  • 16,845 households assisted.
  • $17,727 average assistance received per household.
  • 70% of households earned less than $60,000 per year.
  • 98 counties received funding.

Read the final report here, which includes a detailed breakdown of applicant demographics and ILHAF payments by county.

Hear the testimonial of an ILHAF recipient here.

Asian Carp Barrier Dispute Between Illinois and Army Corps
The State of Illinois and the Army Corps of Engineers are deadlocked in negotiations over erecting a barrier to halt the advance of invasive carp into the Great Lakes. Illinois, along with Michigan, must agree on the terms, but months of discussions have yielded no progress.

Governor JB Pritzker penned a letter to the U.S. Army, asserting that while the federal government acknowledges the project’s critical importance, the financial burden shouldn’t solely rest on Illinois and Michigan taxpayers. He advocates for a broader regional effort, considering the widespread repercussions of inaction on the entire Great Lakes area.

The Brandon Road Interbasin Project (BRIP) stands as a billion-dollar initiative aimed at addressing longstanding concerns over the invasive carp’s potential infiltration from the Illinois River into the Great Lakes. Environmentalists, policymakers, and business leaders fear the disruptive impact on the delicate freshwater ecosystem and the region’s lake-based economy.

With the Great Lakes region boasting a GDP rivaling major countries, the threat of invasive species like carp looms large, jeopardizing vital recreational and marine industries pivotal to the area’s economic vitality.

BRIP, designed by the Army Corps, entails constructing a sophisticated barricade in the Des Plaines River near Joliet, approximately 50 miles downstream of Chicago, at a projected cost exceeding $1.14 billion. Despite federal funding covering 90% of the expenses, Illinois and Michigan are expected to foot the remaining 10%, with Illinois already committing $50 million in state funds.

Governor Pritzker’s cautious approach reflects concerns about potential long-term financial commitments, emphasizing the need for clarity and accountability in the agreement. The proposed incremental strategy seeks to unlock $226 million in federal funds for initial construction and design, enabling the installation of carp deterrents while discussions on remaining issues continue.

However, Illinois faces enduring financial obligations, including ongoing operation and maintenance costs, which remain uncertain. Moreover, unresolved issues such as property acquisition near the BRIP site, complicated by environmental contamination concerns, further complicate negotiations.

As discussions persist, both parties aim to find common ground to advance the project while addressing fiscal and environmental considerations, underscoring the complexities of safeguarding the Great Lakes ecosystem against invasive threats.

Governor’s Role Marketing Illinois Amidst Lagging Return to Work Statistics
In February 2024, Illinois grappled with a troubling economic landscape as its unemployment rate tied for the third worst in the nation, reaching 4.8%, according to fresh data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This rate continued to surpass the national average of 3.9% and exceeded that of any neighboring state.

During the year leading up to February 2024, Illinois added 13,500 jobs, translating to a meager 0.2% growth in non-farm employment, ranking 45th among all U.S. states. This contrasted starkly with the nationwide addition of 2.74 million jobs, representing a robust 1.8% growth rate.

Despite modest gains in sectors such as private education, health services, and local government, Illinois suffered notable losses in professional and business services, shedding 37,700 positions over the same period.

While Illinois has witnessed some industry growth, particularly in government-related sectors, it continued to lag behind the national economy and most neighboring states. Illinois reported the weakest job growth rate among neighboring states from February 2023 to February 2024 at 0.2%, while Missouri led with a robust 1.6% growth rate.

Furthermore, Illinois has struggled with job recovery since the pandemic, ranking 46th in the nation and exhibiting slower growth compared to neighboring states. With 18,400 fewer jobs than pre-pandemic levels in January 2020, the state faced significant challenges in bouncing back from the economic downturn. The state’s sluggish jobs recovery, compounded by ongoing population decline, underscore the detrimental effects of high taxes and unfavorable business conditions.

Governor J.B. Pritzker, recognizing the urgency of the situation, has intensified efforts to promote economic development and attract businesses to the state. This includes engaging with site-selection consultants and highlighting Illinois’ strengths in various industries.

Pritzker’s proactive approach could be looked at as a way to reverse persistent population and job-growth trends that had plagued the state for years. By highlighting Illinois’ improved fiscal standing, successful project acquisitions, and investments in emerging technologies, Pritzker seeks to bolster confidence in the state’s economic potential.

However, challenges remain, including the need for comprehensive policy reforms to address taxation, regulatory burdens, and overall business climate. Despite strides in marketing and incentives, Illinois still has significant ground to cover to compete with more economically proactive states.

Recurring Business:

Will County Long-Range Transportation Plan: Our Way Forward 2050
Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and the Will County Division of Transportation announced that the county is embarking on a long-term planning effort to guide the next 25 years of transportation projects. The Plan will incorporate public feedback in evaluating future priorities, including through an online survey and workshops.

During the development of the plan, the county-wide infrastructure for all modes of transportation will be assessed, including walking, biking, driving transit, and freight. Once completed, the plan will be used to identify transportation investments that align with the public’s goals for the county, such as improved safety and quality of life, reduced congestion, and enhanced economic development.

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Stay well,

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