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Property tax relief becomes sticking point in Illinois' progressive tax debate
Other
Wednesday, May 22, 2019  |   Article  |   By Greg Bishop | The Center Square
Governor (44) , Taxes, Graduated/Progressive , Taxes, property (87) Zalewski, Michael--State House, 23

The amendment to ask voters to change the constitution’s flat income tax to one with higher rates for higher earners passed a House committee this week and is poised for a full House vote, but some Democrats were still on the fence.

The Senate sent over a limited property tax freeze with the constitutional amendment and a progressive income tax rates bill, but state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, said there’s recognition there needs to be property tax relief.

“A property tax freeze is burdensome on local governments, school districts,” Zalewski said. “Property tax relief can take many different permutations.”

What that relief would look like isn’t clear.

Opponents of a progressive income tax said during a House committee hearing Monday that in order to address the state’s high property taxes, there must be pension reform as many local governments have said all of their share of property taxes are going to pay local police and fire pensions. There’s been no movement on a proposed constitutional amendment to reform pensions.

When it comes to the progressive tax rates, the governor proposed rates and the Senate passed a different rate structure. That measure remains in a House committee. Zalewski said the House's rates bill is still being hashed out.

“But we also are being responsive to our colleagues who feel like they need something tangible in terms of property tax relief and we’re getting there,” Zalewski said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said a progressive income tax with higher rates for higher earners will bring billions into the state’s coffers, helping shore up its troubled finances.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said when the governor unveiled his rates proposal that lawmakers should tie rates to the amendment so taxpayers know what to expect. Rates aside, Maisch said looking at tax increases first is the wrong approach.

“Cutting and taxing can’t get the job done by itself, we do recognize that,” he said. “You do need to probably do both of those things, but the taxing should be the last component, not the first, but that’s what we’re leading with here today yet again sending a terrible message to job creators in this state.”

Maisch and Republicans have said the state needs to capture more revenue through economic growth, not higher taxes.

The House could take up the proposed amendment as early as this week.


Rockford airport plans for expansion as officials oppose plans for third Chicago-area airport
Other
Wednesday, May 22, 2019  |   Article  |   By Scot Bertram | The Center Square
Airports (4)
A $9 million dollar federal grant will help Rockford’s airport expand its parking area for cargo jets.

Officials at the Chicago-Rockford International Airport hope it’s just the first portion of up to $35 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Plans call for a 15-acre expansion of the airport’s apron to allow for more traffic.

“During our peak season, October through January, all of our [jet] positions are full,” said Zack Oakley, deputy director of operations and planning with the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. “For future growth, this gives us flexibility to handle our peak operations and our day-to-day operations.”

The airport has seen a spike in cargo traffic over the past five years, growing to become a key hub for Amazon and UPS.

“In 2014, about 700 million pounds of landed weight to 2.1 billion pounds last year,” Oakley said. “With growth again this year, we expect those number to tick up to 2.3 or 2.5 billion, which would put RFD just outside the top 15 cargo airports in the U.S.”

The expansion project and upward trajectory of cargo are reasons why officials in Rockford are pushing back against renewed calls to build a third major airport in the Chicago area.

“It’s a ridiculous assumption to say, ‘We need a third airport for Chicago.’ Well, you’ve already got it,” Oakley said. “You don’t have to build the infrastructure. We exist. We can hit that market and we already are.”

A recent letter written by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, and co-signed by a number of other south suburban leaders, asks state lawmakers to include funds for a long-delayed Peotone airport in any capital bill that makes is way through Springfield.

“Our standpoint is it is unneeded and would be an unnecessary waste of taxpayer revenue,” Oakley said. “We have a massive amount of untapped capability. We can handle anything that’s coming in here and growth in the future with limited investments.”

In the meantime, Rockford officials continue to work to lure new business to the airport.

“We’re trying to work with other cargo operators to show them the benefits. Our costs are much less, your efficiencies are much greater,” Oakley said. “Our proximity to the Chicago market in an unconstrained environment is huge. Being 55 miles away from O’Hare with that connection on I-90, we have no issue getting into that market rapidly.”

Oakley said he expects the Chicago-Rockford International Airport to move into the top 20 busiest cargo airports in the country when updated figures are released later this summer.


Illinois energy reform bills ‘on the back burner’ as session nears adjournment
Carbondale Southern Illinoisan
Wednesday, May 22, 2019  |   Article  |   JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois
Energy, Alternative Energy (93) Castro, Christina -- State Senate, 22 , Cunningham, Bill--State House, 35 , Davis, William "Will"--State House, 30
SPRINGFIELD — As the General Assembly moves toward its May 31 adjournment with issues such as a state budget, graduated income tax, and the legalization of sports gambling and recreational marijuana still to be decided, an ambitious package of energy market reforms will likely have to wait until the fall veto session or later before moving forward.

The expected delay comes despite calls for urgency from activists and energy interests from coal to nuclear and renewables. The ultimate goal of the stakeholders involved is to merge several energy-related bills into a comprehensive reform package that drives renewable energy production in Illinois.

“There's a lot of shifting ground in the energy space right now in Illinois. But given all the complicated policy initiatives facing the Legislature right now, this session, I think it's fair to say energy related concerns have been relegated to the back burner for now,” state Sen. Bill Cunningham said earlier this month.

Cunningham, D-Chicago, is the chair of the Senate’s energy committee and sponsor of Senate Bill 1781, dubbed the “Path to 100 Act," aimed at moving the state toward 100 percent renewable energy by expanding on Illinois’ 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, or FEJA.

Proponents of Path to 100 say FEJA helped create 1,300 renewable energy jobs in Illinois in 2018 alone, but more than 800 solar projects have been wait-listed because of funding shortfalls facing the state’s renewable energy program.

The FEJA-spurred renewable projects received funding from a pool of money generated by a fee of about 2 percent on residential ratepayer bills that is collected and distributed by the Illinois Power Agency.

Cunningham said the Path to 100 legislation would increase that rate cap slightly to create more renewable energy credits and drive further investment in renewable projects — ultimately, according to Cunningham, creating ratepayer savings in the future by eliminating the need for ongoing purchase of raw materials.

“It's just a matter of balancing all those things out over a long-term energy policy in the state,” he said.

Cunningham said FEJA was aimed at getting Illinois to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, but the state is at about 7 percent, and there’s not much room for growth without expanding the pool of renewable credits available.

Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, who is carrying the bill (House Bill 2966) in the House, said he is ready to move the legislation forward at any time, but in light of a long list of important legislation still to be addressed in the next 10 days, he’s not expecting to do so before adjournment.

Another more comprehensive bill dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs Act would reform capacity procurement markets among a list of other reforms including electrification of vehicles. That legislation is contained in Democratic Chicago Rep. Ann Williams’ House Bill 3624, or Democratic Elgin Sen. Cristina Castro’s Senate Bill 2132.

Williams said the goal of her legislation is a carbon-free energy sector — which would still allow for nuclear energy production — by 2030, and a 100 percent renewable sector by 2050.

The bill also aims to “promote equity, jobs and economic opportunity for all communities in Illinois” with a focus on areas affected by coal pollution, Williams said. This would be accomplished through workforce training programs and the implementation of Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs.

“The idea will be there will be hubs in communities where coal plants shut down,” she said. “We’re hoping to plan for the retirement of these coal plants, make deliberate decisions about how they close and how communities can benefit despite that.”

Williams said her bill would increase investment in carbon-free and renewable energy by putting the authority for procuring energy capacity for northern Illinois in the hands of the state, rather than federal markets.

When capacity is purchased, the product is not the energy itself, but the guarantee the grid can output necessary energy wattage to satisfy consumer needs three years into the future.

Northern Illinois is part of the federally regulated PJM grid, which purchases capacity from generators in 13 states and Washington, D.C., at an auction every year. Williams’ bill would leave Illinois in the PJM grid, while removing the state from the capacity auction process, giving the Illinois Power Agency the authority to purchase capacity.

Nuclear energy provider Exelon is backing its own capacity market reforms as well (House Bill 2861 and Senate Bill 660), which it expects to be included in a final energy package in some form.

Exelon representatives said if progress resulting from FEJA is to continue, the PJM procurement process must be reformed, as pending Federal Energy Regulatory Commission changes will remove clean energy incentives from the PJM procurement process.

While Exelon still says passage of capacity reform is urgently needed, representatives of the energy provider acknowledged last week they would likely have to wait until at least the fall for their favored legislation to pass.

Meanwhile, a pair of fossil fuel companies have backed their own bills in the energy reform race. Senate Bill 135, backed by NRG Energy, which operates coal plants in Illinois, would allow companies to receive clean energy credits for closed fossil fuel plants; and House Bill 2713, which is backed by coal plant operator Vistra Energy, is aimed at transitioning closing coal plants into solar and energy storage sites.

Cunningham said it’s important to include all interests in discussions due to the disruptive nature of the reforms and the scope of communities that will be impacted.

“I think that the likelihood is that we're going to have to bring a lot of different interests together in one place,” he said. “So it's not so much a matter of what anyone prefers. It's just a matter of what's inevitable in a very large, complicated regulatory bill. You’ve got a lot of different interests and you need to find a middle ground.”


Former state Rep. Pritchard receives Service to Agriculture Award
Freeport Journal Standard
Wednesday, May 22, 2019  |   Article  |   Reporter
Agriculture (2) , Legislators (former) (58) Pritchard, Robert--State House, 70
DEKALB — Former Illinois state Rep. Robert Pritchard recently received the Service to Agriculture Award from the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. The award was given by accredited farm manager Eric Wilkinson, past president of the organization. The citation is the highest the Society presents to nonmembers and is awarded to individuals who have promoted and advanced the state’s agriculture. Pritchard was lauded for his years of service in the interest of Illinois farmers from his career promoting industry affairs in agribusiness to his 15 years as a state legislator representing the Sycamore/Dekalb area. Pritchard resigned from the state Legislature in 2018 when he was named to the board of trustees at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. The award has been presented annually since 1940. Its recipients have included educators, farm media, secretaries in agriculture, state and federal legislators and agricultural business leaders. For information: ispfmra.org.