SPRINGFIELD – Business leaders from throughout Illinois gathered Wednesday in Springfield to share their concerns about the state’s business climate and to discuss pending legislative issues with Gov. JB Pritzker and top legislative leaders.
The annual joint convention of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association drew hundreds of attendees from businesses big and small to the capital city just as the General Assembly is going into its final stretch before its scheduled May 19 adjournment.
IRMA board chairman Art Potash, CEO of Potash Markets, a chain of specialty grocery stores in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, noted that more than 6,600 bills have been introduced in the General Assembly this year, the second most ever introduced in the first year of a session.
“Quite frankly, much of the legislation presents additional challenges to the business community,” he said during a luncheon speech. “Thankfully, the respective teams at IRMA and IMA have done a great job of containing most of the harm, at least as we sit here today.”
During his keynote address, Pritzker touted investments the state has made in workforce training and apprenticeships, as well as his proposed budget that calls for increased funding for community colleges, universities and student financial aid.
“Yes, of course, people are talking to Mississippi about low-wage workers that they can get if they put a low-wage manufacturing facility in that state,” he said. “But what they talk to Illinois about is skilled labor and skilled workers, because we provide those and we have the third largest community college system in the entire nation. And we’re utilizing that to make sure that we’re at the top of the heap when it comes to skilled work.”
As recently as March, Pritzker suggested that if state revenues continue to improve, some form of tax cuts could be on the table this year. But the most recent monthly reports have suggested that revenue growth has begun to slow down and that lawmakers should be more conservative in their planning for the upcoming fiscal year.
Speaking with reporters after his speech, Pritzker was asked about a Republican priority of repealing the estate tax.
“My priority is balancing the budget and making sure that we are continuing our march to credit upgrades and making sure we’ve set the real foundation for fiscal stability in our state,” he said.
The luncheon also featured a pair of panel discussions with lawmakers moderated by Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Pearson. During one of those discussions, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, drew applause when he responded with an emphatic “no” when asked if he plans to try again for passage of a constitutional amendment to allow for a graduated state income tax.
“You know, one of the things I’ve learned is you learn a lot in losses. And, you know, we got our butts kicked on that issue,” he said. “We have to find a different way to govern, and we’ve been doing that. And that different way of governing has led to eight credit upgrades and several balanced budgets and surpluses, where we have a rainy-day fund and Illinois is on the right track.”
Another issue that was the focus of much attention during the convention was the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, and the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision holding that a company can be held liable for each individual time they scan a fingerprint for an employee to clock in at work.
“Too many employers, nearly 2,000, are facing lawsuits from the trial bar today because they simply use time clocks or face scans for security,” IMA president and CEO Mark Denzler said earlier in the event. “Billions of dollars have already been paid out without any finding of harm. And the recent White Castle decision could cost them $17 billion. That’s a lot of hamburgers, folks.”
Asked about that during the panel discussion, Welch said it was possible the issue could be addressed in the final weeks of the session, but he offered no assurances.
“That’s a really complex issue,” he said. “And, you know, I think if we’re gonna get anything done, it’s gonna take all of us getting around the table and talking. We haven’t done that yet. But a month is a long time to go.”
House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said she believed BIPA is an issue that lawmakers “definitely” need to resolve this year.
“One of the things that we do in Springfield a lot is, we have good intent to make positive change, but the result of the legislation goes too far,” she said. “It isn’t, I don’t think, anybody’s intention to destroy business and have litigation pay out so much that you can no longer function in the state of Illinois, so I definitely think it’s open for discussion for sure.”