Once again we had a very successful legislative session, defending consulting engineers from detrimental legislation, passing substantive legislation that helps consulting engineers and others, and increasing money available for transportation. In a year that most interests faced serious cutbacks in appropriations and/or increased cost to themselves, we were able to add to our workload. I believe our gains this year are fortunate and we should be thankful as many interest groups and the people they represent will experience serious loss, potentially affecting their finances and well-being. For instance, while we added $1.6 billion in transportation bond authorization, Medicaid was cut $1.7 billion! Don’t think this doesn’t come with much regret by many legislators trying to watch out for the interests of their constituents. Again, we need to be thankful.
For several weeks, my colleagues from the Transportation for Illinois Coalition and I lobbied the members of the Illinois General Assembly to authorize the remaining bonds promised as part of the Capitol Program passed in 2009. The IDOT Highway Program was going to decline from the current year appropriation of $2.9 billion to $1.75 billion, a 40% decrease, with the bonds. Without the bonds, it was going to drop to $1 billion, the June letting was going to be significantly reduced or eliminated and we would be unable to match up to $250 million in federal funds.
By the second to last day of session, we learned that there would be no bond bill passed due to lack of support by the leadership, based on the belief by some Legislators that the revenues were not there to pay the debt for the new bonds. TFIC rallied and worked hard to change the dynamics. By the morning of the last day, we had a huge crowd of supporters turn out for a Senate Appropriation hearing and were successful in getting a bond bill out of committee. Subsequent negotiation between key Legislators along with vocal support from my TFIC colleagues resulted in the General Assembly passing a $1.6 billion bond bill that day, closely split between highways and transit/rail. I believe TFIC’s role was instrumental in getting this done and as the TFIC State House Committee Chairman I am thrilled with the team work exhibited by those on the scene at the Capitol.
Road Fund diversions
My TFIC colleagues and I not only lobbied the General Assembly members on Road Fund diversions, but we also created a huge media storm on the subject. I was personally interviewed by two television stations, three radio networks and several print media outlets including the AP, on this issue. A member reported that he actually heard me on KMOX radio in St. Louis.
It got the attention of the Governor as he rolled back the Road Fund diversions on Workers Compensation costs by $30 million. Further, the General Assembly passed a budget that cut in half the amount of Road Funds appropriated for State employee health insurance, saving $88 million. This occurred after we spent weeks lobbying key Legislators, enlisting their support. The plans are to monitor the appropriations, any court challenges that might affect the budget (i.e. pensions/health insurance) to determine actual savings, and then add that to the Highway Program, potentially adding up to $590 million in projects during FY ’13.
Public Private Partnership law
IDOT proposed a trailer bill (SB 3216) to make changes to the law passed last year that authorized IDOT and the Illinois Tollway to use Public Private Partnerships to build new highways. ACEC-IL was a major contributor to the provisions and passage of that law. Foremost, we added a Qualification Based Selection process for the private entity awarded the PPP project as a way to assure our members had the right to compete for this work. This is the first PPP law in the country to include QBS, a major win for consulting engineers.
Unfortunately, IDOT attempted to repeal the QBS provision. We were successful in stopping this change and negotiated some new language that was acceptable to the Department. The lesson for our members is do not assume all engineers support our views on QBS.
IDOT also wanted a trailer bill (SB 3318) to amend the Illiana PPP law that was passed two years ago. ACEC-IL was also a major contributor to the provisions of that law and helped to pass the bill. It included the use of our Design/Build law that we have helped pass five different times. The Department wanted to repeal that provision. Through negotiations led by Senator Toi Hutchison, we were successful in defending the Design/Build requirements and it remains in the Illiana law. The trailer bill was passed with our support, giving IDOT quick take eminent domain power for the Illiana project.
Senate Bill 51 law
Not many laws are known by their original bill number, but the ethics reform law passed as a result of the Blagojevich era is one of those known to people as the “Senate Bill 51 law”. While our members railed against the impact of this law as though it was written solely for them, in reality it affected all business that works with the State of Illinois. As a result, the Illinois Chamber led a coalition of business interests to make changes to the law.
For our members the communication reporting requirements imposed upon state workers resulted in the refusal of IDOT staff to talk with any vendor or firm who wanted to do business with the state. ACEC-IL was able to obtain language originally drafted by IDOT attorneys to correct the communications problem in the law and worked with Legislators and the Chamber led coalition to include these provisions. Simply, we wanted a correction that would be acceptable to IDOT staff so they would reopen the doors of communications to our members. After a two year effort, we were successful in getting a bill (SB 2958) passed that includes our changes plus language that helps other businesses. While this has been frustrating to our members, we can not forget that this ethics reform law was passed based upon the good intentions and recommendations of prominent law enforcement people and others in response to some very bad actions that occurred in Illinois State government.
Street lighting for Energy Performance Contractors
ACEC-IL Lobbyist Jim Morphew found an amendment late in the session filed on an unrelated bill that would have been detrimental to our members. These are the type of amendments that can easily slip through unnoticed, yet have a huge impact. In a matter of a few short hours, we were able to muster opposition from some of our colleagues and prepared for a Senate committee hearing on the bill. Senate Amendment 1 to SB 556 would have allowed energy performance contractors to do street lighting for local governments, and extended the pay back period from 10 to 20 years. Had this become law, consulting engineers, contractors and local workers could have lost this work to out of state energy performance contractors. Because of the opposition we recruited, the arguments we prepared, and the relationship we had with the Senate sponsor of the amendment, the proposal was withdrawn, just as the Senate Local Government Committee convened to hear the amendment.
Union apprenticeship law for Engineers!
Amazingly, we learned that state officials from IDOT prepared and circulated to at least CDB and the Governor’s Office an amendment that would change the QBS law to require engineering firms to have training and apprenticeship programs approved by the US Department of Labor. This is commonly known as the Responsible Bidder Law and is a way of assuring that only companies that have union workers get contracts. It is applied to construction projects, but this would be the first time it would be applied to professional services. The absurdity of this is that there are no organized engineers working for firms, thus there would be nobody to do the work needed by IDOT. All four caucuses were put on alert to watch for this amendment so we could oppose it. It never surfaced, but sources tell us that it may surface at a later date.