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Eye On Illinois: Time, and scrutiny, will show if REV Act is sound investment

Ladies and gentlemen, start your economic engines.

That’s the message from Gov. JB Pritzker, who this week signed the Reimagining Electric Vehicles in Illinois Act. The General Assembly passed House Bill 1769 with near unanimous support Oct. 28, giving economic development officials the power to leverage hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars to attract and retain companies that build electric vehicles and their components, including rechargeable batteries.

According to Capitol News Illinois, the REV Act creates tax credits from 75% to 100% of income tax withheld for new jobs, or 25% to 50% for retained workers along with 10% credits for training expenses. There also are credits for building materials and wages for construction workers.

“Today’s bill signing represents the next step in promoting Illinois as the Silicon Valley of EVs, as we work together to attract new investment from suppliers and other supporting players in this industry,” said Jim Chen, engaging in marketing language tailor-made for future campaign commercials.

Chen is the vice president of public policy for Rivian Automotive, which took over a shuttered Mitsubishi plant in Bloomington-Normal a few years ago. It now employs more than 3,000 workers and has 3.5 million square feet of manufacturing space.

Clearly, Pritzker is betting heavily on his optimistic view of the future where he has a hand in creating thousands of jobs without sacrificing his goal of being a leader in clean energy products. It’s not hard to get excited about Illinois becoming a hub for production of cars, trucks and buses that are in demand nationwide.

Vehicle factories are among the most useful incentive success stories. They’re usually highly visible along major highways – a parking lot full of shiny, new buses is visually stunning – and then roads fill with constant reminders of the wheels of progress.

Still, the actual statewide evidence of that success remains, intangible a hopeful projection. And even if the best-case estimates of the job creation come to fruition, it still will be important to verify the investment was sound from the taxpayers’ perspective.

Companies looking to qualify for incentives must give reports about workforce, executive and vendor diversity, vehicle battery recycling capabilities, tax benefits received, sexual harassment policy and more. The Department of Revenue has to give an annual REV Act report to the governor and lawmakers, plus evaluate the entire program every three years.

Bureaucrats will have to make sure the reports actually come through. Hopefully lawmakers will give them due scrutiny. All deals under the new law have to be in place by the end of 2027, so the next few years could be busy for watchdogs and analysts.

The REV Act is a massive bet. Whether it’s a wise investment remains to be seen.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.