Week in Review: State Fair, roads improvements, DOC & More


First month of Fiscal Year 2023 shows continued Illinois revenue growth; discussion of recession fears. The July 2022 revenue report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), a nonpartisan arm of the General Assembly, shows that State of Illinois tax revenue continued to increase in the first month of FY23. Working with cash flow numbers from the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) and other State agencies, CGFA tracked July 2022 income tax revenues as increasing $118 million over comparable numbers for July 2021. Sales tax revenues were up $55 million, leading to an overall state-tax general funds increase from all sources of $209 million for the month. 

CGFA believes that the State will take in more than $52.3 billion in FY23 as a whole, the 12-month period that will end on June 30, 2023. Any future recession or business slowdown could seriously threaten the State’s financial position. Illinois has among the lowest credit ratings of all 50 states. CGFA staff included a discussion of nationwide economic slowdown/recession prospects on pages 4-6 of the July report.

Energy-Focused Legislative Package Aimed at Cutting Electricity Costs, Ending Blackout Threats. State Representative Dave Severin is sponsoring legislation that would dismantle the “Green New Deal” law passed by Chicago Democrats and signed by Gov. JB Pritzker. Severin says liberal progressives running Illinois government have gone too far with their green agenda, costing everyone more for energy and causing unnecessary threats to the power grid.

“The 2021 Climate and Equity Jobs Act (CEJA) is responsible for massive job loss, rising energy costs, and threatening the energy grid throughout the state of Illinois,” Severin said. “I’m for an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to being energy independent, and I find the threat of individuals and businesses going bankrupt, and the real possibility of brownouts and blackouts due to reckless Democrat-sponsored energy policies completely unacceptable. Illinois has already lost four downstate coal plants, accounting for more than 2,000 MW of reliable energy, since Governor Pritzker has taken office. The people I represent cannot afford for the State of Illinois to sit idly by while our energy security is being threatened. My bills will prevent even more price increases and eliminate grid instability for our residents that expect and deserve affordable, reliable energy.”

Citing major concerns he’s heard from constituents and large and small employers alike, Severin is sponsoring three major pieces of legislation he says will restore Illinois to a position of energy independence while cutting costs for consumers and businesses and securing the power grid against blackouts and brownouts.

House Bill 5780 would repurpose $10 million from fees already collected by Illinois ratepayers for renewables for the purpose of retrofitting coal and natural gas plants with carbon capturing technology. The bill also includes the creation of a new Power Grid Task Force to study the effect of state laws, including CEJA, on energy prices as well as grid reliability. The task force would also be charged with exploring ways to improve the power supply mix within the state using existing energy resources and new technologies, with the stated goal of ensuring the future stability and reliability of Illinois’ power grid. The bill will consider the present and future needs of Illinois consumers while simultaneously addressing any issues related to the performance and reliability of power generation in Illinois.

“Illinois has the capacity and capability to produce some of the cleanest burning coal-fired power in the world,” Severin said. “Arbitrarily closing ‘peaker’ power plants before renewable energy is ready to take their place is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, due to Illinois and other states in the Midwest adopting radical energy policies, our citizens are now facing rolling blackouts and massive price spikes for electricity customers. Permanently shutting down power plants that could otherwise be retrofitted to reduce their carbon emissions puts our state’s energy producing capacity at risk and has already caused costs to spike to unacceptable and unaffordable levels.”

House Bill 5781 repeals the forced 2045 closure date for coal and natural gas power plants that was implemented under the provisions of CEJA, which was signed by Governor Pritzker in 2021. The bill would also allow companies to build new gas peaker plants without the fear of forced closure to ensure Illinois’ grid will be able to meet its demand.

House Bill 5782 would eliminate red tape at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has been preventing new power plants from coming online in a timely manner by expediting the state permitting process.

“We have an energy emergency going on for working families, seniors on fixed incomes, and small and large businesses in Illinois. There is an ongoing threat to the power grid because of irresponsible energy policies supported by President Biden, Governor Pritzker, and Illinois Democrats at every level.” Severin said. “My legislation would streamline the permitting process to keep up with the demand for energy to prevent unnecessary stress on the grid and outrageous price hikes. Illinois has massive reserves of energy fuel. Our state should be a net exporter of energy while providing our citizens with cheap, clean, reliable, and efficient energy service. This legislative package would restore our state’s ability to generate and deliver electricity, cut costs for consumers and businesses, and ensure the reliability of the power grid well into the future.”

School systems warn of afterschool staff shortage. Many hard-pressed parents depend on afterschool programs to full the time gap between when school lets out and when parents and caregivers return home from their places of work. However, the overall Illinois labor shortage has led to severe difficulties faced by many Illinois school districts in hiring adequate numbers of afterschool staff for the 2022 fall semester.

As with all facets of life involving formal child care, a series of increasingly rigid mandates – aimed at protecting the health and safety of the children being cared for – has steadily reduced the flexibility of afterschool spaces. Persons with custody over children cannot simply be hired off the street; they have to go through background checks and, in some cases, must have formal credentials of various sorts. Afterschool spaces have to have a specific ratio of children per caregiver, and many parents of eligible children are learning there is not enough space and their child must go on a waiting list. One estimate states that during the 2021-22 school year, 24.5 million U.S. children were unable to access an afterschool program.

Many Illinois school districts will refrain from teaching controversial new sex education standards. The standards, which are recommended to local schools by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) but not mandatory, are seen by many parents and educators as poorly drawn for talking to children in a non-family context. Of 554 Illinois school districts surveyed by an advocacy group opposed to the standards, only 20 districts (less than 4%) have decided to fully follow the new standards, while 96% of the districts surveyed have determined to exercise their right to modify the standards or to refrain from teaching them altogether.

The National Sex Education Standards were developed outside of Illinois by a coalition of professional panels. Written with an eye towards what the drafters saw as diversity and social equity, the standards include explicit discussions of gender identity and the process of implementing a sex change. Many Illinoisans, including parents, see subjects of this sort as highly inappropriate in the context of talking to children, particularly in a non-family setting such as a classroom.

Contempt of court finding against Pritzker’s Department of Corrections. The Illinois Department of Corrections, a 12,000-employee agency, runs the prisons, correctional centers and custody facilities throughout the state. It has more than 40,000 inmates in its custody, many of whom have various special needs and illnesses. The contempt-of-court finding says that the Department was supposed to have developed a plan to diagnose the health care conditions of inmates and to provide them with specific, targeted forms of health care adapted to their conditions. No such plan has been presented to the federal court of jurisdiction, and the judge has now issued a finding of contempt of court.

One of the factor behind this finding is the existence of what is now an established network of “pro bono” advocacy groups, including legal counsel. These advocates assert that federal courts, court agreements, and consent decrees are essential pieces of good government. The failure of the Pritzker administration to present an inmate health-care plan to the federal court of jurisdiction constitutes an allege failure by the State of Illinois to abide by the terms of a previous court agreement. The agreement responds to, or references, a lengthy list of lawsuits filed by inmates and their advocates against the Department in a series of cases that date back to 2007. In many such cases the original inmate-plaintiffs have served their sentences and been released from IDOC, but under legal rules the cases remain alive with a shifting list of plaintiffs.

The contempt-of-court finding constitutes one more stage of a multi-factored process that could result in a revised pattern of court agreements and a major IDOC consent decree. The goal of the advocates is to force the Department into a legal position where it will have to demand that the General Assembly substantially increase its appropriations of taxpayer funds to the Department. This is another step in what has become a mandated pattern of State of Illinois tax burdens and State spending growing much faster than the economy as a whole. This pattern, in place since 1970, has led to Illinois’ income, sales, and property tax rates continually increasing over time. Illinois now has the 49th or 50th worst homeowner tax burden in the U.S., depending on the method used to count it.

The contempt of court finding is part of a pattern of court findings against State agencies controlled by Gov. Pritzker. In public statements, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his colleagues have called out these agencies, with particular attention to the troubled Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and its director, Marc Smith. More than a dozen separate contempt of court findings have been issued against Director Smith. The IDOC contempt of court finding, which is separate from all of the findings against DCFS top leadership, was issued on Wednesday. August 10.

Illinois Department of Transportation releases multi-year road plan. IDOT’s Multi-Year Improvement Program, which covers fiscal years 2023-2028, is meant to serve as a planning document for the road improvements and other transportation spending to be undertaken by the State of Illinois during this six-year period. Like all such plans, this proposal is subject to change; it is rolled over annually, and so the final five years of this six-year plan will be revised versions of the plan set forth here.

Illinois spends billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure annually. In FY23, IDOT expects to spend $3.7 billion, which will be part of the $24.6 billion that will be spent through the entire length of the MYP. These moneys are spent to build new roads, expand existing highways, rebuild public ways of all sorts, and to build and rebuild bridges (an especially costly item). IDOT plans also include capital spending for railroad crossing safety improvements and carbon reduction initiatives. This includes transportation aid for non-motorized movement corridors such as trails and bike paths.

In the latest Multi-Year Improvement Program, IDOT promises to replace or rebuild 9,981,644 square feet of bridge deck area, and to provide funding to reconstruct or rehabilitate 2,562 miles of Illinois roads. This will include 381 miles of Illinois Interstate highways. Road and bridge closures and lane closures, especially during the summer construction season, will continue to be a fact of life throughout the term of this planning project. The IDOT MYP was released on Friday, August 12.

Illinois State Fair begins in Springfield. Hundreds of thousands of fairgoers will visit the State Fairgrounds to enjoy festival food, events, and entertainment. Held annually since 1853, with breaks for global wars and pandemics, the fair is held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. An admissions fee enables entrance to the entire fairgrounds and its event spaces. A key event is the presentation to the public of the 101st Illinois State Fair Butter Cow, a refrigerated sculpture inside the Dairy Building. This year’s sculpture features a full-sized dairy cow, vegetable oil-producing sunflowers, and the biodiesel potential of Illinois farmland.

The State Fair is playing a key role in the build-up towards the 100th anniversary of the designation of U.S. Route 66. The historic highway, laid out in 1926, has become a symbol of American open space. Of the entire length of the Chicago-to-Los Angeles heritage trail, 301 miles – more than 10% of the total length of the highway – is in Illinois. The State Fairgrounds, which is immediately adjacent to this historic road, is an ideal location for Illinois to feature the Route 66 Experience, which will include new Fairgrounds signage and installations this year. Illinoisans are urged to come back to the State Fair every year as we move towards the Route 66 Centennial in 2026.

The Illinois State Fair Grandstand lineup will include Brooks & Dunn on Sunday, August 14, and Trevor Noah on Friday, August 19. Non-Grandstand entertainment events include free events for the whole family.

Swinging into action with the Twilight Parade on Thursday, August 11, the Fair will continue until Sunday, August 21. Each day of the Fair features a celebration theme, with targeted tributes and discounts. For example, seniors are celebrated on Monday, August 15, and law enforcement officers and other First Responders are celebrated on Friday, August 19.