New Legislative Commission Aims To Help Revive Illinois’ Economy In Wake Of Pandemic

ILLINOIS — There’s a difference of opinion on what the role will be for the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission, created to help revive Illinois’ economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s leading business group is skeptical the group of lawmakers will meet its first deadline.

The commission was created by the state Legislature in a truncated pandemic special session last month. The governor signed the measure Friday.

The group is not expected to provide a legislative check on the governor’s ability to issue months of consecutive disaster declarations, unilaterally reshaping the state’s economy.

“In light of this crisis, and the heightened need for collaboration between the legislative and executive branches, the General Assembly hereby establishes the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission,” the law states. “The members of the Commission will participate in and provide input on plans to revive the various sectors of the State’s economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Reports are due every 30 days through the end of the year with the first report due to the entire General Assembly on July 1, 2020.

Legislative leaders haven’t announced members yet for the 14 member commission. There’ll be eight Democrats split evenly from the House and Senate and six Republicans, three from each chamber.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, hopes the commission takes up how to spend federal dollars.

“The governor’s got $1.7 billion to spend on COVID-related measures to revitalize the neighborhoods and we’ve got until the end of December 2020 to do that,” Ford said.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said he doubted the group will tackle changes he said would revive the economy.

“I hold little hope for the fact that we’re going to look at any true business reforms, increased manufacturing and things like that, things that this state desperately needs coming out of this commission because there simply isn’t the desire to see the private sector success coming out of the governor’s office,” Wehrli said.

It’s unclear when the group will be formed and meet, and if those meetings will be in person or held virtually.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said he doesn’t feel like the business community has a seat at the table. He also worried the group will follow the footsteps of recent ethics reforms and property tax relief groups.

“If they didn’t come through, I think voters should be a little bit skeptical as to whether this task force is going to perform any better,” Maisch said.

Lawmakers created the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reforms last fall in the wake of corruption investigations of sitting lawmakers and lobbyists. That group had a deadline of March 31, 2020, to issue recommendations for reforms, but no final report was filed.

The Property Tax Relief Task Force was created last year with an end of 2019 deadline to issue a report to lower the state’s second-highest in the nation property taxes. No final report was produced.

Maisch said for dealing with the pandemic, lawmakers need to put together better plans to react to future events. He said what’s happened in the past three months has been devastating for the economy.

“I believe that we’re going to look back at what happened not only in Illinois but in multiple states and we’re going to look at what we did to the economy the same way that we look at medieval medicine now,” Maisch said.

More than 1.3 million people in Illinois have filed for unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Center Square – Greg Bishop

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