Blue Collar Jobs Act; Report on Quincy Veterans Home

New legislation would help put Illinois workers back on the job
House Bill 5864, the Blue Collar Jobs Act, was introduced recently to help kick-start construction projects throughout Illinois and create middle class jobs. The plan, which is supported by both business and labor groups, would use the withholding tax paid to construction workers to offer tax incentives to companies which make significant capital improvements in Illinois.

To accomplish this objective, the legislation creates four new tax credits: a High Impact Business construction jobs credit, an Enterprise Zone construction jobs credit, a New Construction EDGE Credit and a River Edge construction jobs credit. If enacted, the program would work under the same structure as the state’s existing EDGE program. The tax credit value would be 50% of the amount of Illinois income tax withheld from workers covered under the agreement, and it would rise to 75% in locations that meet certain poverty, unemployment, and federal assistance rates. Lastly, the tax credit would be issued to the organization doing the construction, similar to the way the EDGE tax credit goes to the company hiring the workers. The intent of the tax credit is to create Illinois jobs by giving companies an incentive to build new buildings or improve existing ones using Illinois labor.

The company would not be able to claim the tax credits until the work is fully completed. This would eliminate the risk to the state of a company not meeting its requirement because the state will have already collected the withholding tax prior to the tax credit being issued.

Our unemployment rate has been improving, but we are still behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole. This plan would be a big step in the right direction for Illinois. The bill is currently in the House Rules committee.

Task Force recommends building new facility at Quincy Veterans Home
Many of us have been shocked by the terrible news about the deaths of our veterans caused by Legionnaires Disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy. This outbreak began in 2015 in the century-old facility, and the need for drastic action to prevent further illnesses and deaths is obvious. The Governor created a task force to investigate the matter and issue recommendations to him for how to fix the problem. They have now submitted their report, which provided four recommendations and noted that “anything less than complete reconstruction will fall short” of its full support.

The report calls for the construction of a new, state-of-the art facility that could house up to 300 residents, the construction of a new, underground water loop for the existing buildings and the new construction, the development of an alternate water source and improvements to the existing water treatment facility. It also recommends the purchase and renovation of an off-site nursing facility which would serve as a temporary living environment for as many as 180 residents.

The cost of the improvements would be between $200 million and $245 million, which would have to be appropriated by the General Assembly. The House and Senate are in session throughout the month of May to put together a state budget which includes this and other important priorities.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,576,573,947 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Legislation to extend incentive to mine Illinois coal passes House
A bill which would extend a sales tax incentive for companies to continue mining Illinois coal has passed the House. House Bill 4415 extends until 2023 an exemption from Illinois sales taxes for equipment used in certain coal mining practices in Illinois. These exemptions cover equipment used for such purposes as exploring, mining, hauling and processing Illinois coal, as well as equipment used for reclaiming and remediating grounds used for coal mining.

The bill will protect Illinois jobs by helping to keep Illinois coal mines operating. Illinois coal has faced heavy competition from other states, particularly Wyoming. The House voted 108-1 to pass the bill over to the Senate for further discussion and debate.

Marking Arbor Day by planting a tree

My thanks to Russ Geisler, Denis Fisher and the students at the Iroquois West school in Danforth for inviting me to attend their Arbor Day festivities. We marked the occasion by planting a tree at the school. Russ talked about the importance of trees and how to plant them, and then made sure that each student had a tree to take home and plant in their yard. The trees were provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It was a great event with some really great questions from the students.

Did You Know?
The convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860 convened on May 16 in Chicago. It took three rounds of voting before Lincoln clinched the nomination, beating out rivals who went on to serve in his cabinet, such as future Secretary of State William Seward and future Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. The convention was held in a wooden structure known as the “Wigwam,” which was one of the many buildings destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871.