ROCK FALLS – A representative from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave an overview of the nation’s legislative landscape Thursday with one issue in particular striking a local note – infrastructure.
Ben Taylor, executive director of the chamber’s Great Lakes region, spoke to a few dozen area business leaders about infrastructure and transportation, health care, tax reform and regulatory reform and what could be coming down the legislative pipeline in the near future. The region consists of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky.
His visit at the Candlelight Inn was brought about by a collaboration between the Sauk Valley Area, Dixon Area, Fulton, Morrison, and Rock Falls chambers.
Taylor said infrastructure and transportation are among the top priorities for the chamber, with the issues hitting close to home in communities across the country where systems are close to – or beyond – 100 years old.
The nation’s infrastructure deficit has grown from a projected $1.3 trillion in 2001 to $4.59 trillion this year, according to the infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
President Donald Trump has touted the possibility of a $1 trillion infrastructure package, but the details have yet to be released.
Taylor said the plan will probably materialize in the fall, but it likely won’t include the federal government footing the $1 trillion bill.
“We’re not going to see a $1 trillion bill, more likely a $500 billion bill across 10 years, and they’ll make up the rest through public-private partnerships,” he said.
Because of the issue’s popularity on both sides of the congressional aisle, it likely will be paired with tax reform legislation to bolster support on that end, he said.
“Everyone agrees on the need for tax reform, but it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder with these groups,” he said.
An infrastructure plan could help to save costs in the longterm by preempting more expensive emergency repairs – something Dixon found out the hard way part of West Seventh Street collapsed two summers ago.
Health care remains a contentious issue in Congress with efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and the “kabuki dance” of trying to compromise on a replacement, he said.
“It’s harder for Democrats to work with [Trump],” he said. “If there’s no oxygen, there’s no ability to come together on that side, and it’s harder to get things done.”
John Thompson, president of the Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce, asked Taylor what the chamber’s stance is on possibly reviving Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a burial site for nuclear waste.
Illinois has the most nuclear reactors of any state — generating close to 50 percent of its electricity, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, and in 2013, it made up 13 percent of the country’s 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste.
Taylor said he thinks there’s a willingness to open Yucca Mountain, but it’s going to take time and planning.
He said participation from local chamber members is vital to instituting change in policy.
“At the local level, they often don’t realize the lobbying power they have,” he said.
Kris Noble, executive director of the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chambers strive to educate members on legislative happenings on the local, state and national levels.
“I think in rural America, we sort of feel like people don’t know what’s going on in our world,” she said. “By us knowing what’s going on at the national level, we can better do our jobs and watch the area thrive.”
She said the five chambers plan on collaborating more in the future.
Contact the following chambers for more information on issues and upcoming events.
• Dixon Area Chamber, firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-284-3361
• Fulton Chamber: email@example.com or 815-589-4545
• Morrison Chamber: firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-772-3757
• Rock Falls Chamber: email@example.com or 815-625-4500
• Sauk Valley Area Chamber: firstname.lastname@example.org or saukvalleyareachamber.com/links or 815-625-2400.