I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve you for another term in the 102nd General Assembly that is scheduled to be sworn in on January 11, 2021. There are critical issues still facing our state with regard to the need for fiscal discipline, ethics reform, and reigning in Governor Pritzker’s executive authority in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I will continue to advocate on your behalf and as always, I’m here to listen and look forward to hearing from you.
All of Illinois to Face Tier III Mitigations Starting Friday
On Tuesday, Governor Pritzker announced that the entire state will move to Tier III COVID-19 mitigations beginning Friday, November 20. The announcement came as positivity rates continued to climb in all 11 regions in the state. As of Nov. 18, the positivity rate for our Region 8 is 15.8%. Medical bed availability within the region is at 24% and ICU bed availability is at 34%.
If there is a positive to be found, originally the Tier III mitigations shuttered businesses and salons that the Governor has deemed “non-essential,” but the list of Tier III mitigations released yesterday eliminated those closures. Big box stores and small businesses are treated the same under the new Tier III regulations, but all face significant capacity limits (25% capacity in all retail stores and 50% at grocery stores). I remain concerned about small businesses, because even though the Tier III mitigations allow their doors to remain open, the restrictions severely limit the number of people who can be inside any store at any one time. I’d like to encourage everyone to support local businesses as they do their holiday shopping. Big box stores are doing fine; small businesses really need our help.
So what is closed under Tier III? Casinos, indoor video gambling terminals, museums, theaters, indoor recreation centers, indoor youth/club and adult recreation sports and certain personal care services, such as facials and beard trimmings, are shut down. Click here to read the full list of Tier III mitigations.
While all regions are moving to Tier III on Friday, each individual region can move back to Tier II when they meet all three of these metrics:
- Experience a test positivity rate of less than 12% for three consecutive days
- Have ICU and regular hospital bed availability of greater than 20% for three consecutive days
- Demonstrate a declining seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalization for 7 or 10 days.
Just one hour before the Governor made his announcement (another unilateral decision with no input allowed by legislators), a group of House Republicans held a press conference and urged the Governor to call a special session specifically devoted to the COVID-19 response. We’re eight months into this pandemic, and since it started in March, the legislature has been in session just four days. Congress and other state legislatures are meeting, and many Illinois boards and commissions are meeting. But not the General Assembly. I support the call for a special session because I am the representative voice of 108,000 Illinoisans and your priorities and opinions are currently not being included in any conversations for COVID-19 response policy. It’s wrong.
Constitutional Amendment Defeated by Voters
Voters sent a loud message that they disapprove of Governor Pritzker’s graduated income tax that was proposed on this year’s ballot. The constitutional amendment was soundly defeated by Illinois voters. The proposed amendment would have erased a Constitutional protection guaranteeing a flat rate for income taxes in Illinois. This change would not just have hit Illinois’ “wealthy.” It would have also affected farmers and small business owners who flow their business income through their personal taxes. Repealing this constitutional language would have allowed legislators to implement a graduated income tax system, increasing taxes however they wished. But tax rates could have been changed year to year as needed to fund the Democrats’ insatiable appetite for spending.
Nothing in this defeat prevents proponents of higher taxes from enacting a standard flat-rate tax increase through the conventional bill-enactment process. For example, in January 2011 a lame-duck Illinois General Assembly enacted a major income tax increase, raising the flat income tax rate on individual incomes from 3% to 5%. I will oppose any efforts to increase income taxes. It is time that the legislature brings down government spending and lives within the state’s means.
Fall Veto Session Cancelled
The Illinois House and Senate are constitutionally required to meet every fall for Veto Session. This year, the veto session was scheduled to begin this week on Tuesday, November 17 and continue until Thursday, December 3. Unfortunately, those who control the Springfield agenda decided to cancel this year’s veto session. Upon hearing the news, I issued this statement:
“I question the motivation behind this cancelation. We were able to meet safely in May in an environment that included testing, mask mandates, regular use of hand sanitizer, and more than ample room to practice social distancing. No one from the House, Senate or staff contracted COVID-19 during our session in May, so we know staff is capable of putting adequate safety precautions in place. Congress is meeting and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be.
“The people of Illinois are counting on us to do our jobs, and since we know we can safely meet, I must wonder if the cancelation is more about Madigan’s growing unpopularity within his caucus and the Governor’s disinterest in engaging with the legislature than it is about our health. We have to get back to Springfield and legislators must be allowed to have a voice in future COVID-19 decisions. This cancelation sends a bad message to Illinoisans who want their voices heard through their elected representative to the House.”
Our state currently faces policy catastrophes on several separate levels. State government is currently spending money at a rate that is almost $4 billion dollars more, per year, than is being paid in taxes. The State’s response to the current COVID-19 pandemic has cost tens of thousands of jobs across Illinois and has not halted the spread of the virus. However, the General Assembly’s leadership has taken steps to cancel the veto session and prevent Illinois lawmakers from meeting to deal with this ongoing crisis.
Budget Hole Currently Estimated at $3.9 Billion for FY21
This information was disclosed in a letter from Gov. Pritzker to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and the other three General Assembly legislative leaders. It constitutes an admission by the Governor that the budget passed by Democrats in the May 2020 special spring session was not actually balanced as required by the Illinois Constitution.
Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) began on July 1, 2020 and will end on June 30, 2021. As of mid-November 2020, 4 ½ months of this 12-month period have already gone by. Much of the FY21 spending in this fiscal year has already been spent, or has been committed to be spent in various ways. The general funds budget walkdown prepared by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget shows that the State is on track to spend almost $43.1 billion in budgeted expenditures during a period in which less than $39.2 billion in income taxes, sales taxes, and other revenues will be coming in. The growth in this structural deficit is driven by a wide variety of factors, of which the two most significant are growth in welfare health care costs and growth in pension payments.
Illinois Posts $9.1 Billion Backlog of Unpaid Bills
Last week, the Comptroller’s office released its count of unpaid vouchers submitted to Illinois for payment, and not yet paid. As of Monday, November 9, 82,656 vouchers had been submitted and placed on backlog. The unpaid debts represented by these vouchers are more than $9.1 billion. This number is not a record high for Illinois, but it represents a red-ink total that has not been seen in two and a half years. In early 2018, the unpaid bill total was over $9 billion.
While these unpaid bills cover a wide variety of goods and services, a large percentage of the unpaid bills have been submitted by health care providers for care and treatments provided to persons on Medicaid or other taxpayer-funded health insurance plans. All of these bills will have to be paid, eventually, by Illinois taxpayers. Furthermore, the existence of this major pile of unpaid bills makes it tougher for Illinois to borrow money to meet its immediate cash-flow needs.