GRUNDY – State legislators and community leaders convened and filled the house at the annual Grundy Economic Development Council Legislative Breakfast. President and CEO Nancy Norton welcomed the about 150 guests to the event. Senators Patrick Joyce and Sue Rezin as well as representatives Jackie Haas and David Welter were in attendance to discuss the business issues affecting Grundy County and the State of Illinois.
The legislators began the morning by responding to questions related to the outmigration Illinois has been experiencing in recent years and its impact on the state and local economy. Rezin highlighted the relationship between high property taxes and people and businesses leaving the state. Joyce added some context to the outmigration story, noting that the populations of both Grundy and Will counties grew over the past ten years according to the most recent census data. He explained that the southern part of the state has lost population compared to the northern counties, and that the economies of these southern counties are often based on older energy technologies, which contributes to the challenges they experience. All agreed that retaining talent, investment and population in the state should be made a priority.
The group of business leaders were especially interested in the state of Illinois’s unemployment insurance trust fund. The fund was overdrawn by $4.5 billion because of pandemic-related unemployment claims, and the recent SB 2803 allocated $2.7 billion from federal ARPA funds to pay down the interest-incurring debt. Rezin was concerned that the state only paid down a portion of the debt, with $1.8 billion remaining. This flawed approach, she anticipates, will lead to a hike in unemployment insurance taxes and reductions in benefits by the end of this year or next, consequently burdening employers which are still working to recover from the pandemic. She would have liked to see the debt completely reconciled. Joyce agreed that while Rezin’s statements were “accurate” and he would have liked to see the debt paid in full, he noted that a portion of the ARPA funding to went toward other key priorities like group healthcare and the pension debt.
While discussing the recent state budget, Haas noted that the budget makes positive investments in behavioral and mental health, despite the fact it also contains mere “temporary” fixes in terms of tax relief. Other legislators mentioned that they were glad to see education, communities and victims of domestic abuse receiving much-needed attention in terms of funding in the budget, but all the legislators agreed that the budget would not be sustainable in the coming years. Further, the amount of time they were provided to review the budget before being asked to approve it was not nearly sufficient and was not indicative of good governance.
The GEDC and attendees expressed gratitude for the legislators’ work to ensure the passage of last year’s energy bill which was instrumental in keeping the area’s nuclear plants open, retaining significant investment and jobs within the county. Representative Welter, who was one of the lead negotiators from the Republican Caucus on the original energy bill, outlined details contained within the recently passed energy trailer bill. He explained that the bill cleans up some of the provisions and language within the original legislation and helps to ensure that Illinois will be able to retain its “peaker” plants, which will help ensure energy reliability. Joyce added that while decarbonization is an important goal, energy reliability, jobs and the overall health of the economy must also be kept in mind.
Norton moderated the event. She said, “After a long break, it was good to see an overflowing crowd attend and participate in legislative issues that affect our businesses and communities. I am grateful for the hard work and commitment demonstrated by our legislators and appreciate their willingness to listen and support our local businesses.” Norton also thanked the other 23 elected officials that were in attendance including State Legislator Tom Bennett, who will be representing parts of Grundy County based on the new redistricting.