ROMEOVILLE – The Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry held its monthly member luncheon Monday at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville.
The goal of the event was to update businesspeople and other community leaders in attendance on state legislation. Senators and representatives from throughout the area were invited to speak about how things are going in Springfield.
The legislators addressed four state issues – education funding, pensions, workers’ compensation and the infamous state budget situation.
State Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, wanted to lighten the mood.
“Contrary to what you hear, the General Assembly is not at war with each other,” Manley said.
But she was there to discuss pension reform. Manley said the state has “promised people things” and legislators have to keep their word. She wanted to quell talk of “big pensioners” and “greedy unions.”
“For decades and decades and decades, the General Assembly did not do what they were supposed to do,” Manley said. “But we have to fix it. We have to wear the jacket for the solution.”
State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said that if there weren’t conflict over the budget, pension reform would be the top priority in the state.
“But they really are intertwined,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of our general revenue fund right now goes to pension funding. Only 25 percent of that amount is our current bills, the rest of that is going toward catching up on our unfunded pension liability.”
Batinick then weighed in on workers’ compensation reform. He is a proponent of the system Massachusetts uses, and described Illinois’ system as “litigious.”
In Massachusetts, all workers’ compensation claims have to be settled within 12 weeks. The system is designed to get the worker healed and back to work, Batinick said. Any case that goes more than 12 weeks or involves a disagreement is determined by a state board.
Massachusetts is 44th in workers’ compensation cost, despite ranking 14th in population as of 2010. Batinick said he’s glad the proposal is gaining attention in Illinois.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said the cost of workers’ compensation is adversely affecting business decisions across the state. But Walsh said Illinois has seen cost reductions of 25 percent to 30 percent since the 2011 workers’ compensation reform.
Walsh said, citing the National Council on Compensation Insurance, that insurance companies have seen profits go from 0.8 percent to 10.2 percent since the reform.
“The thing that has come to light is that a lot of the businesses aren’t seeing that savings,” Walsh said.
Walsh said Democrats want to give consumers the ability to inquire about their rates with the Illinois Department of Insurance. They also want to ask insurance companies to lay their rates out.
State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, used a firsthand example of why the state is struggling to attract business compared with other states. He had worked for a company in Morris that was interested in expanding to another part of the state, but Illinois didn’t seem to meet the company’s needs in order to thrive.
“It’s one-third the cost to hop over the border and do business in Indiana,” he said. “That’s a problem that needs to be controlled.”