Week in Review for October 11, 2019

Lawmakers join Governor to celebrate bipartisan work to attract data center construction to Illinois. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined Governor Pritzker in Chicago on Monday to discuss how new data center incentives will help bring new jobs to Illinois and grow the state economy. The ceremony, held at the Digital Reality Data Center near McCormick Place, was also attended by business leaders, labor leaders, trade groups and existing data center business representatives.

“In today’s world, data centers are as critical a part of our infrastructure as our roads, trains and schools,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “With the legislation I signed into law, we are welcoming a surge of economic development, labor income, and good union jobs to Illinois – and not just here in the established market of Chicago, but across our whole state.”

Illinois joins 30 other states with tax incentives specifically targeted at attracting data centers as part of expanded economic development efforts. It will bolster the industry in the Chicago region – the nation’s third largest data center market – and serve as a powerful tool to increase Illinois’ competitiveness and attract new businesses across the state. Data center investments will fuel new construction and create good paying jobs across the state.

"Data centers are the future of the economy, and with our incentive package, Illinois will lead the Midwest in attracting these job creators," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

“These incentives help give Illinois a competitive advantage in landing new data center projects,” said Rep. Tom Demmer.” On top of high-speed fiber networks, competitive electricity rates, and open land for development, we now have tax incentives that will spur hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments. I was glad to work with business and labor, and both Republicans and Democrats, to help enact this exciting new program.”

"Data centers are essential to cloud-based computing, and touch every major Illinois industry," said Rep. Deanne Mazzochi. "Just as Illinois benefits from being a physical transportation hub, this bill's elimination of data center taxes and burdens will help keep Illinois an information transport hub, and ensure we can stay competitive with neighboring states for this industry's investment, jobs and growth."

The measure allows an exemption from sales tax for data centers who have or plan to make a $250 million investment in Illinois. If a data center is seeking an exemption for the construction or rehabilitation of its structure, the data center must require all contractors and subcontractors to comply with the responsible bidder sections of the Illinois Procurement Code. The measure also creates 20 percent income tax credit against wages if the investment by the data center is in an underserved area. The bill requires an annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly on the tax credit’s outcome and effectiveness.

House committee holds hearing on ethylene oxide. The House Energy and Environment Committee heard testimony from concerned parties and stakeholders in the wake of events surrounding the closure of the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook. The west suburban facility, which used the controversial chemical to scrub pieces of medical equipment, came under fire in 2019 upon revelations that it had been an active generator of ambient toxic waste. Sterigenics announced plans in late September 2019 to permanently close the troubled Willowbrook plant.

In the Thursday, October 10 hearing, the Energy and Environment Committee heard that other plants within Illinois also use ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide, if it is emitted outside the walls of the mechanical sterilization cycle where it is used, has been linked to cancer and other life-threatening health conditions. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is the lead sponsor of House Bill 3885, which would allow local home rule communities the ability to ban the use of ethylene oxide so that they can protect themselves when higher authorities won’t. Leader Durkin testified in front of the Energy & Environment Committee regarding the impact of ethylene oxide emitting facilities in our communities and why we need to push forward and ensure House Bill 3885 becomes law. We need to protect Illinois residents across the state from ethylene oxide.

Farmers begin harvesting 2019 crops. Combines were in the fields this week as the fall 2019 corn harvest was fully underway. At the beginning of the week (Sunday, October 6) 13% of the fields had been harvested, with relatively dry fields speeding the work along. More than half of Illinois corn (59%) was rated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “mature” and ready for harvest.

Illinois crop yields were challenging, in line with wet conditions experienced earlier in the crop year that slowed down planting and reduced many cornstalks’ ability to set large ears. Corn conditions were 54% fair-to-poor in Illinois, with 21% rated “poor” or “very poor.” Soybean conditions were 57% fair-to-poor, with 20% rated “poor” or “very poor.” Off-peak prices for corn and beans contributed to the overall picture.

Massive public comment on new proposed gun dealer rules. The proposed new rules, which will implement a 2018 billenacted by partisan majorities in the General Assembly over the objection of Illinois House Republicans, will impose onerous mandates on Illinois retailers that are licensed to sell firearms. Many voices within the firearms community consider the new legislation and rules to be blatant violations of the federal Second Amendment, and litigation to strike down the new law is pending.

The new State rules to implement the law will be burdensome on licensed gun dealers and their customers. Licensed firearms retailers will be required to install security systems equivalent to those in place in federally-licensed banks and Illinois gambling casinos. Gun dealers will be required to install videocameras to scan critical areas of their business premises and monitor the individual identities of everyone in a location within the licensed store where firearms in inventory are stored, handled, or transferred. Members of active firearms communities throughout Illinois have submitted comments to the State Police to protest against the proposed new rules.

State agency offers workshop help to prospective students and their families. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) Completion Workshops will walk students and their families through the process of filling out college applications and financial aid eligibility paperwork. Particular attention will be paid to FAFSA, the comprehensive family financial-aid paperwork disclosure package.

Many face-to-face ISAC events will be held at high school campuses throughout Illinois. In addition, the ISAC Completion Workshop push includes a channel for interactive text messages, where students can ask questions and get answers, and live chats on a well-known social network. The program is part of Illinois’ current push to increase its percentage of job-credentialed adults from 50% to 60%.

Report calls for consolidation of police, fire pension funds. One of the largest burdens on Illinois taxpayers, particularly property taxpayers, is supporting the increased burden of public-sector pension payouts. In a potentially controversial move that could reduce the future rate of growth of taxpayer-borne unfunded pension liabilities, a new report calls for consolidating the approximately 650 separate pension funds that handle police officer and firefighter pension costs into a single consolidated fund. The move would affect police/fire pensions across all of Illinois except within the city of Chicago, which would continue to operate separate police/fire pension funds.

One reason for concern about the proposed Downstate/suburban pension consolidation is that it could involve the police officers and firefighters of comparatively well-funded, prudently-managed pension funds in some localities with the fiscal problems that have cropped up in other areas. These 650 existing pension funds are entrusted to different managers that have practiced different investment strategies. In addition, some municipalities have been more forward-looking with respect to planning for the current era of historically low interest rates than have others. Low interest rates on prudent fixed-income investments have had a negative effect on pension funds worldwide. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has expressed concern about the consolidation proposal.

‘Deer safety’ is focus of October driving tips. The deer-mating season means that deer will be active, especially during twilight and evening hours, on roadways and roadsides across Illinois. Deer activity caused 15,636 reported Illinois motor vehicle crashes in 2018. Of these incidents, 630 of the crashes led to personal injury, including eight fatalities. The call of mating season means that normally shy deer will try to cross busy limited-access highways and brave the presence of fast-moving motor vehicles, increasing the possibility of damage and injury.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is sharing deer safety advice with motorists for all months, especially October. Slow down if you see deer, even if the first animal you see has avoided your motor vehicle – the groups they travel in mean that more deer are likely to be nearby. Remember that deer sometimes “freeze” in headlights or try to double back across lanes.

Pumpkin harvest in full swing across Illinois. Pumpkin pie is the official State pie and pumpkins are grown across the Land of Lincoln, with a special focus in Central Illinois where Native Americans have grown the vines for centuries. Illinois produces approximately 90% of America’s processed pumpkin and squash; this is the product that is made into frozen or canned filling for dessert and grocery-shelf sale. In addition to the Illinois pumpkins sold at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, many pumpkin patches offer buying and festival opportunities throughout Illinois. Some pumpkin patches also set up corn mazes/sunflower mazes as additional family-friendly experiences. As Halloween approaches, the pumpkin harvest is getting closer to its peak throughout the state.

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