Week in Reveiw: 911, COVID-19, the Budget & more


House Special Investigating Committee meets for first time. The Illinois House of Representatives has named a Special Investigating Committee to look into allegations surrounding Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan. The Investigating Committee met for the first time on Thursday, September 10 to discuss their responsibilities and determine a path forward. The Special Committee includes three House Republican members: Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer, Representative Deanne Mazzochi, and Assistant Republican Leader Grant Wehrli. Three Democrats also sit on the committee. Although the Special Investigating Committee as a whole is bipartisan, partisan votes within the Committee could affect the outcome. The Committee’s first move will be to communicate with the office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois to see if the House investigation may interfere with any imminent law enforcement proceedings that the U.S. Attorney may be carrying out. Federal prosecutors have standing over the House Special Investigating Committee in the scrutiny of alleged acts of wrongdoing.

The Republican members of the Special Investigating Committee held a press conference ahead of the first meeting of the Committee, which will be looking into admissions by ComEd implicating Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan that were outlined in a recent deferred prosecution agreement entered into by ComEd.

This is the second time in the history of the House of Representatives that a Special Investigating Committee has been seated. The first dates back to 2012 when former State Rep. Derrick Smith was expelled from the House following an indictment that he had accepted a $7,000 bribe.

The Committee entered six exhibits into the record; the petition which created the Special Investigating Committee, the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), the federal subpoena issued to Madigan’s office, formal charges, and the Committee’s request to seek witnesses to voluntarily testify and provide factual information from individuals and entities to help the Investigating Committee.

Following Thursday’s adjournment, until further notice, the Committee will not reconvene until Chairman Chris Welch receives confirmation from the United States Attorney’s Office that the work of the Special Investigating Committee will not interfere with the ongoing investigation of Speaker Madigan. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin had advised the US Attorney’s Office of his petition prior to its filing.

Madigan allies are trying to protect him by saying formal criminal charges have not been filed against the Speaker. Flashback to 2009, when Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office while an ongoing investigation was pending against the disgraced governor.

In the meantime, House Republican members of the Special Investigating Committee are committed to gathering information and putting forth all the facts they can for the Committee’s consideration.

The legislature is supposed to determine whether the Speaker has acted in a manner unbecoming of a Representative or has committed a breach of public trust. This Committee does not require the proof of a crime or proving each element of every crime in order to prove conduct unbecoming.

The members of the Special Investigating Committee are tasked with conducting a thorough investigation of the charges, and if reasonable grounds are found to exist, send the charges and relevant information to a Select Committee on Discipline.

If the Select Committee on Discipline makes a determination that discipline should occur, it would take 71 votes to reprimand or censure Speaker Madigan, and 79 votes to expel Speaker Madigan from the House of Representatives.

Former ComEd vice president faces federal criminal charge. Fidel Marquez, the former utility executive, was charged with criminal conspiracy committed in the Northern District of Illinois. The charge was worded – Marquez allegedly conspired “with others known and unknown” – so as to enable federal law enforcement to continue their investigation under conditions of confidentiality. ComEd, as a corporation, has already agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in their scrutiny of ties between the electric utility and “Public Official A,” who has been widely identified as Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.

The charge indicates that Marquez was allegedly a “fixer” for these ties, and that they could have extended to the compilation of a series of packages of jobs, contracts and money, paid for by ComEd shareholders and ratepayers. ComEd allegedly put these assets at the disposal of “Public Official A” and his senior aides. These persons could then use these assets as fuel for a political machine. The charge against Marquez includes an allegation that, for nearly a decade, he coordinated this cooperative political arrangement on behalf of ComEd.

In July 2020, ComEd and the office of the U.S. Attorney agreed to place the company, one of Chicago’s largest business firms, in the status of “deferred prosecution.” As part of this status, ComEd agreed to proffer $200 million and to cooperate with prosecutors. If the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement are met, this sum of money could be converted into a fine against the company, and other elements of a possible federal prosecution of ComEd could be dropped. In a typical deferred prosecution case, the perpetrator party offers full cooperation to investigators and prosecutors as they continue to scrutinize a third party.

Total statewide coronavirus case count exceeds 250,000. The quarter-million mark was reached on Monday, September 7. As more than 12 million residents live in Illinois, this massive number means that a bit more than two percent of all Illinoisans has been tested for the deadly virus and have come up positive. Significantly, more than 3% of the total Illinois case count, (more than 8,200 Illinois cases) have resulted in fatalities. This number, which counts Illinois COVID-19 deaths since March 2020, is about 14% of the total number of Illinoisans who have died over this six-month period. Many patients have contracted the disease, tested positive, and have recovered. A significant number of patients have reported follow-up health consequences of various types. It is not known how long these possible consequences and complications will last, nor what additional treatments will be required for them.

Illinois now has a massive COVID-19 testing structure in place. A statewide list of testing locations reflects the availability of tests at specific locations throughout Illinois. Many locations with available tests request that prospective patients communicate with the testing center ahead of time to reserve a place. Each person who wants to get tested for COVID-19 should consult their local testing center for guidelines.

A flagship of Illinois’ coronavirus testing program is the rapid-answer saliva test developed by biochemists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Approximately 20% of all Illinois COVID-19 tests are now being conducted by the U of I system, with the speedy test available for an increasing percentage of the total testing population. A fast-answer, reliable test is essential to avoid telling people to stay home and self-quarantine themselves under conditions of ambiguity. It turns out that if people (especially young adults) are told to isolate themselves because they ‘might or might not’ be contagious, it is a challenge to get them to obey this advice.

Health professionals have carried out more than 4.5 million Illinois tests for the pandemic coronavirus. Not every test reflects a separate Illinois resident; in some cases, including students and educators, individuals have been tested more than once.

Positivity case counts climb in Metro-East Region 4. The region, which encompasses seven counties in southwestern Illinois, is undergoing a resurgence of coronavirus test positivity. Region 4, which centers on the Metro-East population adjacent to St. Louis, is strongly affected by COVID-19 activity and viral transmission compliance on the Missouri side of the region’s shared border. Thousands of Illinoisans in this region routinely cross the Mississippi River to work, shop, or visit friends and family.

As a result of increased COVID-19 positivity case numbers, hospital referrals, and percentages of hospital bed space in use in Region 4, mitigation measures have been put in place and toughened. These measures, and the overall climate of uncertainty created by changing laws, rules, and guidelines, are having a severe negative impact on many small businesses throughout the region. Restaurants and places of social gathering, such as bars and taverns, are harshly affected.

The seven counties in Region 4 are Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair, and Washington. These counties are part of a region of approximately 665,000 Illinoisans that centers on the cities of Alton, Belleville, and East St. Louis. Madison County, one of the most populous counties in Downstate Illinois, posted a coronavirus positivity rate of 15.99% on Wednesday, Sept. 9 – almost double the rate that triggers mitigation measures, and a signal that the virus is circulating contagiously within the county.

Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) reports on August 2020 revenue numbers. Illinois was one of many states that saw upward trending revenue in the final full month of summer 2020. A key variable, Illinois income tax payments, rose by $321 million in August 2020 as compared with the prior-year August 2019 figures. $285 million of this year-over-year increase came from payments by Illinoisans of individual income tax, much of which is deducted from the paychecks of Illinois workers who are actively employed in payroll jobs. Overall August 2020 general revenue cash flows increased by a similar $321 million, with other cash flows rising and falling around the central trend generated by income tax payments.

The CGFA budget analysts could not assure General Assembly members that this upward trend will continue indefinitely. A section of their monthly report to legislators, titled “Looking Into the Future,” lays out some of the variables and risk factors facing out State’s near-term future prospects. Much of current U.S. prosperity is based on a cash infusion provided by one-time borrowed money that is derived from the multi-trillion-dollar federal relief appropriation bills enacted in March 2020. When this money is spent, it cannot be expected to be renewed. Illinois could soon face a cash flow crunch that would be even sharper than the increase enjoyed in August 2020.

City of Chicago’s budget deficit estimate is $2 billion. The deficit estimate was published by Bloomberg Tax, a specialty news wire service used by lenders and financial professionals. Hard-hit by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago is facing catastrophic trends in local real estate values and retail sales. These trends affect the immediate revenues earned from sales tax within Chicago, and the long-term revenues to be enjoyed from property taxes imposed on the threatened real properties. According to Bloomberg Tax, Chicago may face a $1.2 billion deficit in 2020 and a further $0.8 billion deficit in 2021, for a two-year total of $2.0 billion.

Like the State of Illinois, Chicago owes massive and growing pension obligations to its currently-vested and retired employees, including police officers and firefighters. Estimated deficits posted against Chicago by Bloomberg Tax renew concerns about the ability of Illinois’ largest city to meet these obligations under the current tax structure.

Illinois colleges, universities not able to develop consistent COVID-19 response for fall term. Institutions of higher education nationwide are seeing outbreaks of contagious coronavirus, with Illinois colleges and universities not immune. An upsurge in cases reported at Bradley University has forced university leaders to quarantine the entire campus for at least two weeks. “Clusters” of COVID-19 infections were linked to what Bradley officials called student “off-campus gatherings” at apartments and Greek houses. The Peoria-based university stated that “about 50” students had contracted the virus and tested positive for it.

Critics say Illinois institutions of higher education need to develop a consistent program of COVID-19 testing, case reporting, and contact tracing of positive cases. This recommendation is especially important for Illinois public universities, which have student populations of thousands or tens of thousands of young people.

Never Forget. This year marks the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americans. We will never forget the lives that were lost, the tales of courage and heroism that emerged, or the heaviness we all felt in our hearts as Americans on that fateful day. Today, we remember 9/11. #NeverForget

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