Week in Review: Jobs, taxes, veterans & more


Severe budget cut imposed on Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs). Although Illinois, in the heart of the Corn Belt, is one of the granary locations of the world, the ability to grow crops in the high-rainfall climate of the eastern Midwest is dependent on local infrastructure. Almost all of Illinois’ cropland consists of relatively flat parcels of soil. These land patches have to enjoy enhanced drain pathways for rainwater if they are going to produce crops. In addition, correct drainage engineering prevents soil from washing away into local creeks and rivers.

Maintaining the engineered drainage of local Illinois farmland is a matter of urgent importance. However, in the partisan budget passed shortly after Memorial Day for FY25 (the fiscal year that will begin on July 1), Democrats cut State funding for aid to local drainage districts by almost one-half. After these cuts, only $4.5 million remained in State aid for SWCDs in FY25. Much of Illinois’ drainage engineering was already nearing the end of its useful life. The absence of these State SWCD funds will speed up the deterioration of much of this vital infrastructure, and could lead to sharp reductions to future Illinois crop production and crop-related jobs.

Seconds tick down on shot-clock-free Illinois high school basketball. After many years of debate, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) – keeper of the rulebook for prep sports – has green-lighted the device for standard use on the Illinois varsity basketball floor. Teams will have 35 seconds to complete an offensive play or hear the dreaded buzzer. The shot clock will appear courtside in the 2026-27 season.

The Illinois shot clock debate was influenced by many high school basketball coaches, assistant coaches, volunteers, and parents who have strong feelings about the device. In deference to this debate, the statewide shot clock mandate will not initially apply to junior varsity games and games played between sophomores and between freshmen. Athletic conferences and teams are granted subsidiarity rights to opt into, or stay out of, the shot clocks with regards to non-varsity games. However, because serious non-varsity players will be looking forward to playing on the varsity level if they are selected for teams, the junior players and their coaches may evolve towards greater shot clock use in junior Illinois basketball games as the players learn how to play under pre-varsity conditions.

Multi-state study shows Illinois state-run colleges, universities impose high tuition costs upon in-state students. When preparing to go to college, graduating Illinois high school students have to make plans for the heavy burden of tuition and related higher-education expenses. These burdens can affect decisions on where to enroll, including whether to study in or out of the state of Illinois. While existing financial aid programs offer some help to limited subsets of entering students, middle-class students and their families often do not qualify for standard aid packages. This means that the student and his or her family may have to pay full freight to attend an Illinois state-run college or university.

Unfortunately, the standard tuition charged by the four-year program of an Illinois public university is the third-highest bill imposed under parallel circumstances by universities in the 50 states. A study published this week by the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) states that an Illinois student seeking to enroll in an Illinois public university for collegiate study on an in-state basis will face an average tuition bill of $14,993. This is the 3rd highest such bill among the 50 states, exceeded only by New Hampshire and Vermont. Because of financial pressures like these, many graduating Illinois high school seniors with college potential are being forced to enroll in out-of-state colleges. When they leave Illinois, many of them do not return, exacerbating Illinois’ ongoing population loss.

Most states charge their graduating high school students much less to enroll in-state than does Illinois. Two of the top-10 states, ordered by population, charge less than half of what Illinois public universities charge to in-state students. The study showed in-state average bills of $4,513 in Florida, and in-state bills of $7,337 in North Carolina. The IPI study was published on Monday, June 24.

Uptick in Illinois unemployment during May; House Republicans fight back. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) stated that joblessness rose in May 2024 from the previous month, up 0.1% from 4.8% to 4.9%. The rise in unemployment included net Illinois job losses in Manufacturing (down 2,300 jobs) and in Leisure/Hospitality (down 1,200 jobs). Illinois’ May 2024 jobless rate was 90 basis points higher than the nationwide unemployment rate of 4.0% for the same month.

Other sectors of Illinois employment showed net job creation in May 2024, with a net new paycheck increase of 7,100 in Professional and Business Services, and 3,300 net new jobs created in Government. On an overall basis across all sectors, Illinois employers reported creating 12,700 net new jobs in May 2024. This net new job creation was far smaller, however, than the 317,400 Illinoisans counted as unemployed and looking for employment during the same month. Unemployment was especially significant in many regions of Downstate Illinois, including rural counties and in traditional industrial centers such as Danville, Kankakee, and Rockford.

To fight back against these dismal trends, House Republicans have formed the Reigniting Illinois’ Strong Economy (RISE) working group. RISE, headed by Representative Dan Ugaste, introduced a package of job-friendly legislation in the General Assembly this spring. This package will also serve as the job-creation platform for many of the members of our Caucus as they look forward to continued legislative action and public outreach. In our RISE podcast, Representative Ugaste describes the issues facing job creation in Illinois.

New law creates new Springfield-based Illinois Department of Early Childhood (IDEC). The law creating the new Department, which will transition into existence over the next two State fiscal years, was signed on Tuesday, June 25. The new Department will administer programs that are currently housed at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

Under the new law, the often-troubled DCFS will be required to give up its supervision of day care centers, day care homes, and group day care homes to the new Department. This could alleviate some of the burden DCFS currently faces. Additionally, the newly-created Department is slated to supervise early childhood education programs and care programs for at-risk children and families, including home visitations and intervention services. The transition of responsibilities over to the new Department will be phased in over a 24-month period concluding on July 1, 2026. A proclaimed policy goal of the new Department will be to prevent very young children from experiencing deprivations, often experienced within at-risk families, that appear to generate an increased risk of long-term effects upon human achievement levels and personalities. In a parallel budget bill, the General Assembly appropriated $14 million in the upcoming fiscal year for initial IDEC startup costs, including hiring executive staff and opening new office spaces.

House Republicans want good care for Illinois’ young children, but many members of our Caucus pointed to the almost complete lack of information provided to lawmakers by champions of the new Department as to how much the act of setting it up would cost and what the new Department’s overall impact on Illinois’ future budgets and tax bills would be. The House vote to enact the creation of the Illinois Department of Early Childhood was 93-18-0.

Illinois to implement another motor fuel tax increase on July 1. The State’s tax on motor fuel has increased every year since 2019. Another increase will be imposed on July 1, when the levy on gasohol and equivalent fuels will rise from 45.4 cents/gallon to 47.0 cents/gallon. As recently as the first half of 2019, the State levy was only 19 cents per gallon, but during the past five years this tax has increased by almost 150%. The 2024 Illinois tax on diesel fuel will also increase. In addition to the State of Illinois tax on motor fuel, Illinois buyers must also pay a federal gasoline tax (18.4 cents per gallon), and in many cases must pay supplemental taxes levied by local governments.

Illinois’ motor fuel tax, which is imposed separately from and supplemental to the State’s sales tax on motor fuel, is deposited in a “lockbox” fund that is required by law to only be used for transportation purposes. However, these allowed purposes include non-highway expenditures such as passenger trains and city buses. Many neighboring states charge much lower motor fuel taxes than does Illinois. For example, the current tax rate in Indiana is 18.9 cents per gallon.

Representative Dan Swanson honored by Illinois veterans’ organization. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) named the northwest Illinois lawmaker as their Representative of the Year. As a member of the Illinois Army National Guard, Swanson has been called up for multiple terms of active duty, including tours of service at the Rock Island Arsenal and in Iraq. He has been decorated with a Bronze Star and with the Combat Action Badge.

In Springfield, Swanson serves as the Republican Spokesman on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The 16-member committee has jurisdiction over issues involving veterans of the United States armed services who are living in Illinois. In the current 103rd General Assembly, Swanson took the lead on new legislation to clarify the Vital Records Act. Swanson’s bill, which became law, grants preferred standing to Illinois veterans who experienced a service-related injury when they are reaching the end of their lives. A space on each standard death certificate, for an Illinois veteran, will now include a line to clarify whether the military service-related injury contributed to the cause of death. The standardization of this information will help spouses and next-of-kin directly, and will inform descendants as well.