Week in Review: Ethics probe, COVID-19, harvest time and more


Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin Says Time’s Up for Democrats: Demand Answers from Madigan or Call for His Resignation. Charging that Democrats “pulled the plug” on the investigation of Mike Madigan for political motives, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin on Thursday called on Gov. JB Pritzker and House Democrats to “demand answers from the speaker or demand his resignation.” 
Leader Durkin stated that Chris Welch, Chairman of the Special Investigating Committee II, “took a dive” to protect Speaker Madigan and was covering up corruption in his own party before the election.

“After trying to find every possible roadblock to delay this committee, be it by repeatedly misrepresenting the U.S. Attorney’s Office position and refusing to discuss subpoenaed testimony… Chairman Welch conveniently realized that he was out of excuses and pulled the plug,” Durkin said.

Leader Durkin reiterated that the Special Investigating Committee has a duty and obligation to investigate the admitted facts in the ComEd Deferred Prosecution Agreement and Speaker Madigan’s involvement as Public Official A in the bribery scandal.

“Where are all of the House Democrats who said, ‘If the charges are true, Speaker Madigan must resign,’” Durkin asked, before calling on Governor Pritzker to demand Madigan answer the questions or resign.

Leader Durkin’s Statement on Chairman Welch’s Decision to Stonewall the Special Investigating Committee. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued the following statement on Tuesday, October 6, regarding Chairman Chris Welch’s decision to stonewall the Special Investigating Committee by refusing to hold any more hearings until after the Nov. 3 election:

“Rep. Welch’s decision to postpone the Special Investigating Committee’s work is a disgrace and a slap in the face to the Governor, the General Assembly and the citizens of Illinois. The U.S. Attorney has given the SIC authority to investigate, and Governor Pritzker has on numerous occasions urged the Speaker to testify on his role with ComEd’s nine-year bribery scheme. Yet Rep. Welch refuses to do anything except hide the truth about the corruption of Speaker Madigan and the Democratic Party of Illinois.

“This is just another example of Mike Madigan’s double standard of the House Rules. The Rules of the House apply to all except him.”

Mazzochi Blasts Democrats’ Decision to Postpone Madigan Hearings. State Representative Deanne Mazzochi called Democrat Special Investigating Committee Chairman Chris Welch’s decision to postpone all hearings on House Speaker Mike Madigan until after the election next month an “act of cowardice”.

“Chairman Welch’s decision is an utter insult to the people of Illinois who want and deserve the truth,” Rep. Mazzochi said. “The Democrats are postponing Madigan’s questioning under oath because they know we have difficult questions for him, and what those marching under the banner of his authority have done.”

Welch’s decision to postpone all committee hearings was a last-straw stall tactic. Earlier in the week, ComEd indicated they were willing to share additional documents with the Committee relating to the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, including an e-mail communication forwarding a Madigan request for ComEd to consider Juan Ochoa for a ComEd Board seat. The Deferred Prosecution Agreement identified this Board seat appointment as part of ComEd’s effort to reward and influence Madigan. In response, Welch issued a broad set of document demands that Mazzochi described as trying to “call for the haystack after we’ve already found the needle.” Rep. Mazzochi, an attorney, said this is a “classic delay technique well known and used by lawyers like Welch.”

Rep. Mazzochi reiterated, “It is clear that Democrats on the investigating committee are serving the interests of the Speaker, not the House, their own members, or even the Governor. Legislators from both sides of the aisle have called on the Speaker to give his answers; and they must be under oath. This committee was not formed to protect Mike Madigan or enable Illinois’ culture of corruption; it was formed to restore the people’s faith in Illinois’ ability to hold our leaders accountable. Shame on Chairman Welch.”

Welch requested data dump from ComEd. State Representative Tom Demmer who serves as the minority spokesperson on the Special Investigating Committee II, released the following statement on Tuesday:

“At last week’s meeting of the Special Investigating Committee, a motion to subpoena key witnesses was ruled out of order by Chairman Welch, and no vote of the committee was taken. After the meeting, we sent copies of the requested subpoenas to Chairman Welch for his review. Still now, a week later, he has not responded nor issued any subpoenas.

“Instead, Chairman Welch sent a letter to ComEd requesting a data dump of all communications in the last decade between ComEd or Exelon and any staff member, employee, contractor, or consultant of Governors Quinn, Rauner, and Pritzker, Senate Presidents Cullerton and Harmon, Senate Minority Leaders Radogno and Brady, House Minority Leaders Cross and Durkin, and Speaker Madigan—only one of whom is actually identified in the Deferred Prosecution Agreement. This request involves hundreds of people and could take months for ComEd to respond.

“In contrast, I requested from ComEd documents directly related to the DPA—documents they acknowledged during testimony in last week’s meeting. Since the Special Investigating Committee was created by a petition with a specific charge about Speaker Madigan, and with direct references to the DPA, I believe it is appropriate for the committee to call witnesses and request documents that are relevant to the committee’s charge.”

More than 6 million COVID-19 tests performed in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) continues to track coronavirus tracking numbers and diagnoses throughout the state. As of Wednesday, October 7, IDPH reported the performance of more than 6 million tests for the virus. These tests had generated 307,641 positive tests confirmed, a positivity rate of 5.1%. These more than 300,000 positive cases of confirmed coronavirus were associated with 8,878 deaths of Illinois residents. Many of the people, in Illinois and around the United States, who become very ill from coronavirus have preexisting conditions that exacerbate their body’s response to the unfamiliar virus.

The number of coronavirus tests performed in Illinois is now approaching one test for every two Illinoisans. In some cases, however, the same individual has been tested more than once. Many Illinoisans are front-line workers in health care, public safety, and other places of increased risk or sensitivity. The Illinois public health community is making major efforts to test everybody who needs it.

One area where the public health communities of Illinois could do some more work is on contact tracing. IDPH has briefed a General Assembly panel, the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission, on contact tracing startup efforts across the State. In remarks to the Commission on Tuesday, September 29, IDPH reported that authorities in many key regions of the State (including Cook County) have not yet hired and trained the workers needed to identify persons who have been in contact with infected individuals. A contact-tracing infrastructure is not yet in place in Illinois, and the virus continues to spread.

Metro East Region 4 shows improvement, released from additional mitigation restrictions. IDPH announced on Friday, October 9 that due to improving COVID-19 numbers from the Metro East region, the counties of southwestern Illinois that make up Region 4 would be able to return to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan. Under Phase 4, restaurants and bars are allowed to offer limited inside service, provided that customers and wait staff wear masks except when directly eating and drinking, and serving tables must be set well apart from each other.

Region 4 — which includes Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties — initially moved to stricter mitigations on August 18, following three consecutive days of a rolling positivity rate above 8%. On September 2, additional mitigations were implemented after the region increased its positivity rate to a 7-day rolling positivity rate of 9.6%.

As of Friday, Region 4 had reached the threshold to lift mitigations following three consecutive days of a rolling positivity rate below 6.5%. Therefore, indoor dining and bar service can resume along with larger gathering sizes as outlined in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan. IDPH will continue working closely with the region to prevent another spike in cases.

Region 1, home to Rockford, Dixon and Galena, is currently operating under additional mitigations as the region continues to report a 7-day rolling positivity rate above 8%. Additional mitigations can be found online here.

Fitch Ratings redoubles concerns about State of Illinois’ teetering debt standing. Illinois currently has, in the eyes of Wall Street and global bond buyers, a financial functionality level that is barely above junk-bond level. Any further downgrade by Fitch or either of the two other major debt rating agencies, Moody’s and S&P, could push State of Illinois general-obligation debt below the junk-bond line that separates investment securities from shaky debt seen as not possessing investment-grade characteristics.

In a report published this week, Fitch analysts laid out elements of future empirical data that could lead them to downgrade Illinois. Items of data that Fitch will be looking at include changes in Illinois’ pension liabilities, the appearance or non-appearance of further aid from Washington, D.C., the effectiveness of any budget reduction plan promulgated by the Pritzker administration, a potential further downturn in the economy of the U.S., and changes negative to Illinois in global import/export and trading patterns.

Illinois is preparing to sell $850 million in additional general obligation (GO) bond debt, with the securities scheduled to go to market on or about Tuesday, October 20. With reference to this pending sale, Fitch analysts reaffirmed the status of Illinois GO debt as BBB- with a negative outlook, the lowest investment-grade rating possible.

CGFA finds plummeting revenues from gaming during pandemic. These findings came in a report published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the General Assembly’s nonpartisan budget-monitoring arm. CGFA monitors State tax revenues from gaming; most State gambling taxes are imposed on a percentage basis, and so tax revenues are an accurate reflection of overall legal gaming activity throughout Illinois. On Friday, October 2, CGFA reported to the General Assembly on the impact of the pandemic on FY20 gaming statistics.

In FY20, gaming tax revenues fell by 13.4% compared to the prior fiscal year. With respect to FY20, the fiscal year that ended on June 30, gambling activities came under sharp assault from the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. Pursuant to a declaration of emergency by Gov. JB Pritzker and public health orders posted pursuant to the emergency, Illinois riverboat casinos shut their doors. Most video gaming activities, held in taverns, video-gaming parlors and other indoor spaces affected by these orders, slowed down or stopped. What had been a healthy revenue stream for the State dropped sharply. Plummeting gaming revenue was identified as another sign of Illinois’ overall budget woes.

Harvest time begins in Illinois. Relatively sunny, dry weather sped the combines out into the fields this week. As of the week ending on Sunday, October 4, the Illinois corn crop was 89% mature and ready for harvest, but as of that day only 26% of the corn was in the bins. More than half of the harvest-ready corn was still out on the stalks at the beginning of this week, and it was time to start bringing it in. Almost three-quarters of the corn field operators were reporting a good crop, with 58% of the acreage described as “good” and 15% as “excellent.” Condition in the soybean fields were equally positive (75% good or excellent), and 25% of the beans had been harvested.

The Illinois crop figures are the product of weekly reports generated by farmers who are in electronic contact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA compiles these reports into a weekly summary for Illinois and the other major farm states.

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