This week in Illinois

FY16 Budget
Leaders’ budget meeting with Governor moved to December 1. The face-to-face meeting is scheduled to bring together Governor Bruce Rauner and the leaders of the four General Assembly legislative caucuses, including House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. Originally scheduled to be held on Wednesday, November 18, the meeting has been reset for Tuesday, December 1. The new time will allow preparations to continue over the Thanksgiving holiday.

In addition to budget issues, questions dividing Illinois leaders include workers’ compensation, property tax relief, public-sector labor pay and benefits, tort reform, election process reform, and term limits. Many key items of House Republican advocacy have been barred from discussion and debate within the Illinois General Assembly in recent years. The role of House Speaker Madigan has come under discussion as an element in the overall operation of Illinois state government, often characterized in recent years as one of the “worst in the nation.” Illinois currently has the lowest bond and credit ratings of any of the 50 states.

Economy – Jobs
Illinois’ October 2015 jobless rate holds steady at 5.4 percent. The 5.4% figure, announced by the Illinois Department of Employment Security on Thursday, November 19, was unchanged from the rate posted for September 2015. Illinois’ nonfarm payroll employment numbers showed net growth of 14,100 jobs, in sharp contrast to recent months when little or no growth was seen in this key metric. Increases in Illinois workforce participation led to the Prairie State posting an unchanged unemployment rate despite the net increase in new jobs created.

An analysis of the IDES figures indicates that, as in previous months, a disproportionate share of the new jobs being created in Illinois come in the areas of secondary and tertiary services. 11,400 of the net new jobs created in Illinois during the most recent month-to-month period were generated in the fields of educational services, health services, leisure services, and hospitality. Illinois manufacturing was once again the weakest area of job creation in Illinois, with factories yielding 1,900 jobs in October 2015. Over the 12-month period from October 2014 through October 2015, 10,000 fewer men and women were employed in Illinois manufacturing.

Tyson Foods announces plans to shutter Chicago plant, lay off 480 workers. The South Side plant prepared frozen meals for the hospitality industry. Products made at the plant included meatballs, crepes, omelets, and soups, and included products often served in hotel/motel breakfast rooms and buffet tables.

The soon-to-be-shuttered plant represented an echo of the Chicago Stockyards. During the first half of the 20th century dressed meat products from an area covering barely more than one square mile, located along Chicago’s Halsted Street and Ashland Boulevard, fed a substantial share of the U.S. population. Tyson Foods, which acquired the Chicago-based Hillshire Brands in 2014, has taken a key role in the consolidation of American protein goods and their transfer from urban factories to locations closer to sources of supply.

EDGE Reforms
Governor Rauner uses executive authority to reform EDGE program. The troubled program, created in 1999, has granted tax credits for 16 years to Illinois-based employers that sign agreements to create new jobs in Illinois or to save existing jobs. In order to enjoy the tax credits provided by an EDGE agreement, a business must continue to maintain levels of jobs and economic activity set forth in the agreement. The program has come under serious criticism in recent years. In some cases, some EDGE workplaces have moved from one place to another within Illinois. In a few cases, a workplace has maintained its eligibility for EDGE credits for a period of time, enjoyed some of the benefits of the program on a year-to-year basis, and then shuttered the facility and left Illinois.

The Rauner reforms will end the practice of offering the coveted tax credits to employers that retain existing jobs. Instead, the benefits will be restricted to employers who create new, verifiable jobs in Illinois. Controls are added to prevent EDGE tax credit beneficiaries from maintaining their eligibility for tax credits while moving jobs around within Illinois. Additional controls are aimed at preventing two or more packages of job credits from being awarded to a single employer or workplace. The EDGE program, which operates under the executive authority of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, can be reformed by unilateral action of the Governor.

O’Hare Airport Noise
Suburban O’Hare Commission criticizes planning decisions in expansion of Chicago airport. A study by the Suburban O’Hare Commission, a nonpartisan intergovernmental entity representing municipalities around Chicago’s largest airport, finds that more than 45,000 people are likely to be negatively affected by aircraft noise upon the completion of the ongoing runway relocation program at O’Hare.

The relocation program has led to the closure of more than half of O’Hare’s traditional runways, and their replacement by up to six parallel runways. All of the parallel runways are aligned to handle aircraft takeoffs and landings over neighborhoods located directly east and west of O’Hare, and inhabitants of their neighborhoods were key subjects of this week’s Commission study. The study found that key impact estimates used by planners to justify the $10 billion runway relocation program had sharply under-estimated the frequency of key aircraft operations that use the new runways, particularly nighttime takeoffs and landings. The study was scheduled to be presented to the Chicago Aviation Commission on Friday, November 20.

State Government – Rauner Labor Agreements
Agreements with 11 separate labor unions announced. The tentative four-year contracts will cover relations with workers that perform a wide variety of tasks for State government, particularly in skilled crafts. The agreements between 11 labor organizations, including key trade unions, and the Rauner administration were announced on Wednesday, November 18.

Negotiations continue between the State and its largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Other unions at bargaining tables with the State’s management negotiators include the Service Employees International Union/Healthcare Illinois, the Illinois Nurses Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and two unions representing police officers.