Week in Review: COVID-19, AG, taxes & more

Push for “Phase 4” reopening. Under Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, restaurants, bars and taverns will be allowed to reopen their indoor facilities under conditions of social distancing. Schools and universities will be allowed to make plans for reopening in fall 2020. Health and fitness clubs, gyms and swimming pools will be allowed to reopen under strict guidelines. Many Illinois residents have been laid off from jobs that are associated with these workplaces, and the Illinois unemployment rate has spiked to more than 15 percent. The move to Phase 4 is currently scheduled to begin on Friday, June 26.
A survey of coronavirus-related unemployment metrics show that the Illinois job picture, in relation to the 50 states, has accomplished the 9th position in terms of the recovery. The survey was published on Thursday, June 18 by WalletHub. Neighboring states that join Illinois with good numbers include Wisconsin (#6) and Iowa (#14). The WalletHub survey is not an overall calculation of the grim layoff numbers posted during this pandemic; it is a statistical survey of overall trend lines generated by week-by-week movements in unemployment claims. States that were hit hard early, such as California and Illinois, tended to do well in this week’s WalletHub data wrap-up.

Illinois corn, soybeans largely planted. The successful sowing of Illinois’ two dominant cash crops is a sharp contrast with growing conditions in spring 2019, when persistent wet weather hampered planting efforts in many parts of the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which monitors Illinois agricultural activity, reported that as of Sunday, June 14, 100% of all Illinois corn and 94% of all Illinois soybeans had been planted. In rating numbers important to crop buyers and futures traders, the USDA rated 63% of the Illinois corn, and 64% of the Illinois soybeans, as “good” or “excellent.” Continued favorable growing conditions will help Illinois jobs connected to corn and beans, as the flooded fields of spring and early summer 2019 forced Illinois elevators to draw down their inventories.

Election Day to be a State holiday in 2020. The holiday will be observed on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, which is the date set by the federal Constitution for the general presidential election. Under SB 1863, which was passed by the General Assembly in the May 2020 special session, this date, for 2020 only, has been renamed to be an official State holiday that will be called “2020 General Election Day.” In addition, various things have been done to make it easier to vote by mail in 2020 in Illinois.

Making the 2020 Election Day a holiday could be seen as a strategic move by Illinois Democrats to boost voter turnout, especially turnout of marginal voters whose presence is seen as essential to the ongoing effort to enact a graduated income tax. SB 1863 was approved in the Illinois House by a vote of 72-43-0, with House Republican members voting “no.” The Governor signed SB 1863 into law on Tuesday, June 16 as Public Act 101-642.

Illinois Gaming Board announces plan to reopen riverboat casinos. Thousands of Illinois residents have been laid off from jobs at the state’s ten licensed riverboat casinos, which have been closed since mid-March. At its June 2020 meeting, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB), the regulatory panel with oversight responsibilities over most Illinois gambling, issued guidelines for the ten riverboat casinos to move towards operational reopening under health controls.

The IGB’s guidelines take account of the fact that Illinois riverboat casino gaming floors are well-ventilated, completely enclosed spaces. Gamblers will be required to wear masks to gain admittance to the casino gaming floor. Only some of the gaming machines will be powered up for play, ensuring that players will be socially distanced from each other. Certain traditional casino amenities, such as dining buffets, will not be offered. Casino staff members will also wear facemasks. A new amenity at several casinos will be sports betting parlors, which have already been pre-approved for the casinos at Alton and Des Plaines.

No hard date has yet been set for the reopening of Illinois’ ten licensed riverboat casino gaming facilities. The riverboats are located throughout Illinois, with five in the Chicago area (Aurora, Des Plaines, Elgin, and Joliet), and five located in Downstate Illinois (Alton, East Peoria, East St. Louis, Metropolis, and Rock Island).

Illinois public colleges and universities announce plans for fall reopening. Institutions of higher education ended on-campus education, an essential element of the college experience, in mid-March as the 2020 coronavirus pandemic affected Illinois. Since that time, instruction has continued via online lectures and video conferences.

As case counts decline and evidence increases as to the usefulness of facemasks in limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus, higher education trustees have begun to finalize their plans for the 2020 fall term. The summer months will be an opportunity for setting up parameters for on-campus instruction and indoor learning.

A centerpiece of the plans announced this week by the University of Illinois, a system that includes three main campuses at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, is a mandatory requirement that all participants in an indoor, in-classroom instructional setting wear facemasks at all times. The campuses will also take steps to close their campus buildings to outsiders. Other Illinois state colleges and universities, such as Charleston, Ill.-based Eastern Illinois University, are in the process of adopting similar plans. The University of Illinois announcement was made on Thursday, June 18.

JOBSUnemployment decreases in May. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate fell -2.0 percentage points to 15.2 percent, while nonfarm payrolls added +62,200 jobs in May, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The April monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report from -762,200 to -738,600 jobs. The April unemployment rate was also revised from the preliminary report, from 16.4 percent to 17.2 percent, as a result of large monthly revisions to unemployed and employed in April.

The May payroll jobs estimate, and unemployment rate, reflects activity for the week including the 12th. The BLS has published for the May payroll jobs and the unemployment rate.

The state’s unemployment rate was +1.9 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for May, which was 13.3 percent, down -1.4 percentage points from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was up +11.1 percentage points from a year ago when it was 4.1 percent.

The three-month average Illinois payroll employment estimate was down -245,800 jobs during the March to May three-month period, compared to the February to April three-month period. The largest average declines were found in Leisure and Hospitality (-95,700), Trade, Transportation and Utilities (-33,600) and Educational and Health Services (-30,000).

Compared to a year ago, nonfarm payroll employment decreased by -737,900 jobs, with losses across nearly all major industries. The industry groups with the largest jobs decreases were: Leisure and Hospitality (-285,200), Trade, Transportation and Utilities (-102,100) and Professional and Business Services (-96,100). Illinois nonfarm payrolls were down -12.1 percent over-the-year as compared to the nation’s -11.7 percent over-the-year decline in May.

The number of unemployed workers fell sharply from the prior month, a -9.1 percent decrease to 955,100 but was up +261.0 percent over the same month for the prior year. The labor force was up +2.7 percent over-the-month and down -2.5 percent over-the-year.

Southern Illinoisans disappointed Grand American will not be held in Sparta. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announced this week that the 121st Grand American World Trapshooting Championships, traditionally held at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex (WSRC) in Sparta, will not take place at the venue due to public health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Grand American, the largest shooting event of its kind, spans several days and is home to more than 20 events, drawing shooters from across the globe. With more than 5,000 competitors and spectators expected to attend this year, overall attendance and international travel factored into the decision not to host this year’s event.

State Rep. Terri Bryant called the decision a “$30 million kick in the gut” for Southern Illinois.

She also expressed her disappointment in Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Bryant said he was scheduled to visit Southern Illinois on Tuesday, she said, and he rescheduled his visit to Monday. He was in Belleville Monday morning and West Frankfort Monday afternoon. He left West Frankfort shortly after 3 p.m. Monday. Pritzker's office did not respond to a Wednesday email seeking comment.

American Trapshooting Association Executive Director Lynn Gipson was notified at 5:30 p.m. Monday that the Grand American would not be allowed in Sparta, according to a statement from ATA.

“The governor did not have the courage to stay and make the announcement himself eye-to-eye with Southern Illinoisans,” Bryant said. “The same thing is true with the (Du Quoin State) fair.”

Reminder: Income Tax Filing and Payment Deadline is July 15. The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) is reminding taxpayers that state individual income tax returns and payments are due July 15, the same date set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for federal returns. Taxpayers who have yet to file their 2019 state individual income tax returns must act by July 15 to avoid penalties and interest. The Governor extended the tax filing season three months from the normal due date of April 15 to help Illinois taxpayers experiencing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 15, over 4.99 million taxpayers have filed their state individual income tax returns despite having the extension option; this represents 81% of the total state individual income tax returns the department anticipates. IDOR has successfully processed over 3.3 million refunds to date. As part of a revised revenue estimate released in April, the Governor’s Office of Budget and Management projected the extension would defer approximately $1 billion in general fund revenue to Fiscal Year 2021.

IDOR reminds taxpayers that the fastest, most secure way to receive a refund is to file a tax return electronically and request direct deposit into a checking or savings account. Taxpayers may file and pay their IL-1040 for free through MyTax Illinois. Taxpayers who have already filed a return can check their status by using the Where’s My Refund? link located at www.MyTax.Illinois.Gov.

For the most up-to-date information, forms, schedules, and instructions for the 2019 tax year, please visit IDOR’s website at: tax.illinois.gov. IDOR offices are currently closed to the public; taxpayers needing assistance can contact the department by phone at 800-732-8866 or via email (addresses available at tax.illinois.gov).

Much of Illinois River to shut down to barge traffic this summer. In a long-planned refit, four lock-and-dam complexes will shut down this summer and early fall on the Illinois River, starting July 1. Moving from upriver to downriver, the four complexes are located from Marseilles, Illinois to LaGrange, Illinois. In addition, the Dresden Island lock and dam upstream from Marseilles will partly close. This closure will make it possible to replace key pieces of lock machinery, and to unbolt several of the great lock gates and replace them with new ones. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which operates the Illinois River waterway system, says that some of the fittings used to raise and lower barges up and down the river have been working since the current locks were built in the 1930s, and require urgent replacement. The 2020 refit should be completed by October 29, 2020.

Juneteenth celebration this weekend. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate African-American freedom, culture, and achievement, as well as a day of reflection for our nation.

Over the years, the commemoration has become a national event, including a National Day of Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Enslavement held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The 150th anniversary of Juneteenth in 2015 was recognized throughout the United States and all around the world. Today 47 U.S. states commemorate Juneteenth in some way.
Juneteenth was formally designated in Illinois in 2003. That year, members of the 93rd General Assembly unanimously passed legislation declaring the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. The legislation commemorates “the abolition of slavery throughout the United States and its territories in 1865,” and goes on to urge Illinoisans to, “reflect on the suffering endured by early African-Americans and to celebrate the unique freedom and equality enjoyed by all State citizens today.”

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