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CAPITOL RECAP: August 13, 2022

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Capitol News Illinois
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State Fair begins in Springfield

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ILLINOIS STATE FAIR: The 2022 Illinois State Fair officially got underway Thursday, Aug. 11, when Gov. JB Pritzker and Secretary of State Jesse White cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of the main entrance to the fairgrounds.

“As many of you know, the Illinois State Fair, one of my favorite events of the year – and First Lady MK Pritzker and I could not be happier than when we come to the State Fair,” Pritzker said at the ceremony.

The first State Fair opened in Springfield in 1853. It then moved to several different cities before settling at its permanent location on Springfield’s north side in 1894. It has been held there every year since then, except for the years during World War II when the fairgrounds were used as a supply base for the Army Air Force. There also was no fair in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grounds are now undergoing major renovations with an infusion of $58.1 million from the Rebuild Illinois capital improvements program. Those include the repaving of several roads on the grounds, and major renovation to the coliseum and multi-purpose arena.

This year’s fair is also a special occasion for Secretary of State White, who is retiring in January after serving a record 24 years in that office. He served as the grand marshal of the twilight parade that took place Thursday evening.

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FAIR ATTRACTIONS: Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois State Fair organizers unveiled the 101st State Fair butter cow Wednesday, Aug. 10, an unofficial kickoff of the fair which began Thursday, Aug. 11, and runs through Aug. 21.

The sculpture – by Iowan Sarah Pratt – consists of more than 800 pounds of recycled butter in the shape of a cow munching on a sunflower. It also pictures a farmer tending the land and growing sunflowers, one of which was eaten by the cow.

The theme of the 2022 fair and butter cow is “Grow with Us.”

It’s a nod to the state’s agriculture industry as well as $58.1 million in construction that is planned at the fairgrounds, according to Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II. The renovations are funded by the state’s Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure program, approved on bipartisan lines in 2019.

Pritzker, at the unveiling Wednesday, said the theme for the year was fitting for Illinois, pointing to job growth and infrastructure investment.

Grandstand attractions, among others, include pop star Demi Lovato on Saturday, Aug. 13, country duo Brooks & Dunn on Sunday, Aug. 14, country star Willie Nelson & Family on Tuesday, Aug. 16, and comedian Trevor Noah on Friday, Aug. 19.

The Department of Innovation and Technology will host its second annual Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics Expo from Aug. 17-21, complete with e-sports competitions, drone racing and interactive exhibits. Fairgoers will also be able to take home a 3D-printed miniature butter cow from the STEAM tent.

The butter cow sculpture will remain on display in the Dairy Building throughout the fair and is viewable live via the butter cow webcam.

FAIR INFRASTRUCTURE: The 122-year-old coliseum at the fairgrounds saw renovations for its structural integrity in 2019, while Phase 2 construction at the facility is set to begin when the fair concludes this year. The $16.3 million in planned renovations include electrical and plumbing work, an elevator and adding an HVAC system.

The HVAC system will allow for year-round use of the coliseum, which could mean an expansion of dog shows or other events. In 2025, the fairgrounds will host the World Clydesdale Show.

The multi-purpose arena at the fairgrounds will be temporarily closed this year, but it’s also on the list of makeover projects. The 261,000 square foot arena was constructed in 2000.

It will receive $8.6 million in work, including repairs to sidewalks, walls, steps, expansion joints and electrical systems. It will receive a new canopy and other structural work, including new retaining walls around the facility.

Other renovations included roof and HVAC replacements in various buildings, as well as energy improvements and tuckpoint work.

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ROAD INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN: The Illinois Department of Transportation on Friday, Aug. 12, laid out a $34.6 billion six-year spending plan for road, bridge, transit, rail, airport and port upkeep.

It’s the latest multi-year plan backed by the state’s 2019 Rebuild Illinois bipartisan infrastructure law, which doubled the state’s motor fuel tax from 19 to 38 cents per gallon and scheduled it to grow with the rate of inflation. That measure also increased driving-related fees, redirected a portion of the state’s sales tax on motor fuel to the road fund and authorized borrowing to pay for construction projects.

Approximately $8.6 billion has already been spent in the first three years of the Rebuild Illinois plan on road and bridge projects.

It’s a slower pace than laid out in the six-year $33.2 billion spending plan passed in 2019. But IDOT Secretary Omer Osman said he’s hopeful that the pace picks up as several large projects move beyond the initial engineering phase.

IDOT has expanded its engineering staff and lawmakers approved a “design-build” process in Senate Bill 2981 this year to combine the design and construction in a more efficient bidding process, which could also hasten things, he said.

The highway portion of the multi-year plan – a required filing each year for the state’s transportation agency – accounts for $24.6 billion of the planned spending. Of that, $13.3 billion, or 54 percent, is federally funded, just over $6 billion is state funding, $4.1 billion comes from bond proceeds, and $1.2 billion comes from local reimbursements.

The current fiscal year, which began July 1, is scheduled to see $3.7 billion in new construction under the road and bridge plan.

Road projects are underway in all nine of the state’s IDOT districts, from a $54 million interchange reconstruction, bridge replacement and repair on Interstate 80 in Will County, to $100.3 million for improvements on Interstate 24 from Metropolis to Interstate 57 in Massac, Johnson and Williamson counties.

Another near-$10 billion in combined state, federal, local and private spending was laid out for transit, marine transportation, railways and airports. Of that, 59 percent was state spending and 31 percent federal.

Projects in that plan range from construction of high-speed rail between St. Louis and Chicago to airport upgrades to support for major port renovations at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers near Cairo in southern Illinois.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last year allowed Illinois to expand its multi-year plan by $4 billion, Osman said.

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INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING HISTORY: The Rebuild Illinois plan passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Gov. JB Pritzker’s first year as governor, marking the first state capital infrastructure plan in nearly a decade.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed it as forward-thinking for its automatic motor fuel tax increase, raised registration rates for electric vehicles, and the authorization of bonding to pay for construction.

The motor fuel tax and fee increase, contained in Senate Bill 1939 passed 48-9 in the Senate and 83-29 in the House. The spending plan, contained in House Bill 62, passed 95-18 in the House and 53-6 in the Senate. The bonding authority measure, contained in House Bill 142, passed 94-20 in the House and 53-6 in the Senate.

One lawmaker voting against all three portions of the plan was then-Rep. Darren Bailey, the Xenia Republican and current state senator who is challenging Pritzker in the 2022 governor’s race.

Bailey has frequently criticized the motor fuel tax increase, successfully using it as an avenue of attack against challengers in the Republican primary. But he hasn’t offered up an infrastructure funding plan of his own.

Asked for comment on the infrastructure plan and potential alternatives Friday, Bailey’s team issued a statement.

“JB Prtizker’s gas tax hike gave Illinois the second-highest gas tax in the country, and some of the highest gas prices. It is simply not affordable,” spokesperson Joe DeBose said in a statement. “48 states are able to build their transportation infrastructure with lower gas taxes than Illinois. We can do better with zero-based budgeting and reprioritizing spending, but not with J.B. Pritzker in charge.”

Osman, who has worked at IDOT for more than 30 years and became its director under Pritzker, said the motor fuel tax increase means infrastructure improvements can continue beyond Rebuild Illinois’ initial six-year lifespan.

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ABORTION FALLOUT: Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said this week that he is actively reaching out to businesses in Indiana and other states that have recently passed restrictive abortion laws in hopes of luring those companies to Illinois.

“Well, already I've reached out to companies that are affected in Indiana. I want to make sure that they know that they're welcome in Illinois, any expansion that they may be looking to do, that we welcome their employees,” Pritzker said at a Monday, Aug. 8, news conference.

His comments came just days after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, signed into law a near-total ban on abortions in that state, making Indiana the first state to enact a new law restricting abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade which had previously legalized abortion nationwide.

Indiana’s new law bans the procedure except in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies or when the pregnant person’s life is at risk.

The day after Holcomb signed that bill, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, one of the state’s largest employers, issued a statement saying it would look to expand its workforce outside of its home state.

That statement helped highlight the growing fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the decision that overturned Roe, exposing both the political and economic consequences of the ruling.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights, Illinois is one of only a handful of states – and the only state in the Midwest – with laws specifically protecting access to abortion services.

On Thursday, Aug. 4, Pritzker announced the state would increase its Medicaid reimbursement rate for abortion services by 20 percent, effective Sept. 1, as a way to provide increased resources to abortion providers who are seeing increased patient loads due to women coming to Illinois from other states.

Pritzker has also tried to make abortion rights a central issue in his campaign for reelection to a second term, contrasting his support for those rights with the views of the Republican candidate, state Sen. Darren Bailey, of Xenia, who in 2017 compared abortion in the United States to the Nazi Holocaust.

“The attempted extermination of the Jews of World War II doesn't even compare on a shadow of the life that has been lost with abortion since its legalization,” Bailey said in a video statement at the time.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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