Week in Review: Indictment, COVID-19, Veto & More


Madigan ally Mike McClain indicted. The federal indictment of Speaker Madigan ally and confidante Mike McClain, himself a former legislator, shows that the investigation into bribery and corruption within Speaker Madigan’s inner circle continues to ramp up. McClain was charged with bribery conspiracy, a federal felony, in connection with admissions by Commonwealth Edison that the utility giant attempted to buy influence with the Speaker. The indictment was handed down on Wednesday, November 18. 
The developing pattern of indictments, guilty pleas, and deferred prosecution agreements entered into by ComEd and the office of the U.S. Attorney indicate that a conspiracy took place to enable ComEd to buy influence. This pattern of political influence peddling enabled ComEd to raise electric rates on northern Illinois customers. Also charged in the federal indictments this week were Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker, and Jay Doherty. Pramaggiore is the former CEO of ComEd, a key subsidiary of the multistate utility holding company Exelon.

Despite the indictments, the House Special Investigating Committee tasked with the responsibility to investigate the developing Madigan case has yet to meet again after two months of silence. House Republicans have seats on the House Investigating Committee, but Democrat Chairman Chris Welch has refused to reconvene the panel.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin released the following statement on the U.S. Attorney’s announcement of indictments against Speaker Madigan’s allies including Mike McClain, Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker and Jay Doherty:

“Today’s news makes it abundantly clear that the Democratic Party of Illinois, chaired and controlled by Speaker Madigan also known as Public Official A, is a corrupt organization that has run its course. For the past many months and years, Madigan’s apologists from the Governor to the rank-and-file House Democrats have turned a blind eye to his corrupt practices. Speaker Madigan and his long list of defenders need to be removed from power, and that starts with Chairman Welch reconvening the Special Investigating Committee immediately.”

Gov. Pritzker orders new mitigations. The Tier 3 Resurgence Mitigation order comes in the context of double-digit COVID-19 positive case counts throughout the state. The rising positivity case counts indicate that, despite the hard work and sacrifices borne by many Illinois residents to prevent this contagious virus from spreading to others, the virus continues to spread at a dangerously high rate. Many other U.S. states are also seeing rising COVID-19 case counts, positivity diagnoses, and hospitalizations.

In March 2020, when COVID-19 first broke out in Illinois, Gov. Pritzker and public health experts combined to issue a “stay at home” order to enforce near-quarantine conditions statewide. As of November 2020, it is now clear that this level of command and control did not permanently tame the contagion. In addition, when Illinoisans stayed at home economic activity dropped catastrophically, leading to additional suffering for many. The Tier 3 resurgence mitigations have been imposed throughout Illinois this week and are effective on Friday, November 20. Retail stores will be allowed to operate under strict capacity limits; prospective customers may have to wait for their turn to enter a store and complete their shopping. Personal care, health and fitness centers such as gyms, beauty salons, and barbershops, will be allowed to operate under conditions of strict density conditions. Face coverings are required in all indoor public spaces.

No indoor service will be allowed at bars and restaurants under Tier 3. Meeting rooms, banquet centers, private party rooms, private clubs, and country clubs may not host gatherings. Indoor group sporting and recreational activities and events are suspended. Riverboat casinos, theaters, and museums are closed.

News reports continue to indicate that two or more types of vaccine against COVID-19 will soon be approved, and distribution of these vaccines will then begin. Health care providers and first responders will be prioritized for administration of any vaccines and other treatments that are available. Public health experts continue to warn that even if these vaccines meet their promises of effectiveness, mandatory COVID-19 mitigation measures will continue to be in effect until vaccination has become near-universal among U.S. residents.

Case counts show that viral resurgence continues. The numbers released by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for Thursday, November 19 show what is now a typical pattern of new case diagnoses, hospitalizations, and deaths at the hands of COVID-19. The IDPH reported 14,612 new and probable coronavirus cases, with 168 additional deaths, for the 24-hour period. The ratio of diagnosed (confirmed and probable) cases as a percentage of total tests administered was 12%, with more than 100,000 new tests administered every day. The test positivity rate of 14% was higher than the case positivity rate, because some Illinois patients who tested positive were tested more than once.

The daily report also tracks COVID-19 hospitalizations and their severity. As of Thursday, November 19, 6,037 patients with coronavirus had been admitted to Illinois hospitals, and of these patients, almost one-fifth – 1,192 patients – were in intensive care units (ICU). All of these numbers are strongly skewed towards older Illinois residents and persons with pre-existing conditions.

The cumulative COVID-19 case count was well above 600,000 as this week neared its end (621,383 as of Thursday, November 19), with 11,178 deaths attributed to the virus. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging Americans to practice extreme caution and avoidance of social gatherings of all sorts, including family gatherings: “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.”

Revised State revenue forecasts. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the Illinois General Assembly’s revenue-tracking and budget-forecasting arm, released a new report this week containing revised numbers for FY21, the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2020 and will end on June 30, 2021. CGFA published its revenue projections for FY21 in May 2020 to assist the General Assembly as it enacted an emergency budget for FY21. The May numbers reflected the weeks of Illinois economic activity that came with Gov. Pritzker’s spring 2020 “stay at home” order, which halted many sections of the State’s economic activity.

Since May 2020, many facets of Illinois life have reopened. Some, but not all, Illinois workers who had been laid off or furloughed have gone back to work. Paychecks have restarted, and Illinois workers are paying income taxes. Illinois workers and their families are also buying taxable goods and services, and paying sales taxes.

The CGFA November 2020 revenue estimates show a sharp improvement in State income tax receipts and sales tax receipts from the levels that had been expected in May of this year. These updated projections come on the heels of the budget projection revisions issued by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) at the end of last week. State-sourced revenues from FY21 State income taxes are now expected to come in at a level that will be almost $1.5 billion/year higher than the numbers expected in May 2020. Sales taxes are expected to come in at a level that is $730 million higher than the May 2020 estimate. CGFA sees an additional $2.3 billion in General Funds revenues for FY21.

At the same time, these revised numbers do not come close to solving the State of Illinois’ continuing budget crisis. The partisan budget enacted by the Democrat majority in May 2020, contained a budget deficit of $6.1 billion for FY21. The Democrats’ budget could only be “balanced” by borrowing $5 billion in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve System, and a mix of $1.2 billion in additional emergency borrowing or revenue that had been hoped for from the now-failed graduated tax constitutional amendment. Most of this multi-billion deficit remains as an urgent threat to Illinois’ economic future.

CGFA currently expects the FY21 budget, even with the new projected revenue increases briefly described here, to be $4.1 billion out of balance – compared to GOMB’s updated estimate of $3.9 billion. Furthermore, with the statewide Tier 3 mitigation orders starting Friday, November 20, these numbers could again worsen.

Winter sports put on hold. Although the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) had earlier hoped to allow its school district members to decide for themselves whether or not to host winter sports activities, high school basketball and other wintertime group sports have been put on hold due to the surge COVID-19 case counts and school district liability concerns.

In announcing the postponement, the IHSA expressed the hope that dramatically improved future treatments for the COVID-19 virus, including a possible vaccine or vaccines, would allow high school sports activities to resume in 2021.

Fall veto session canceled. The Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session that had been scheduled to begin this week was instead canceled, as the COVID-19 resurgence shut down many in-person activities across Illinois.

The veto session was cancelled despite the increasingly urgent nature of the challenges facing Illinois. The State faces a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, imminent threats to the survival of small businesses across Illinois, widespread layoffs and unpaid furloughs, and an unemployment insurance system nearing collapse.

House Republicans Demand Governor Call Legislature into Special Session to Collaborate on New COVID-19 Response Policy. As the House and Senate chambers of the IL General Assembly sat empty on what was to be the first day of the 2020 fall veto session, a group of House Republicans urged Governor Pritzker to use his authority to call lawmakers to Springfield for collaborative work on the State’s next steps in battling COVID-19.

“The Governor may say he is disappointed in the cancellation of veto session, but it is fully within his power to call the legislature back in to session,” said State Representative Avery Bourne. “The Governor cannot continue to unilaterally rule by executive authority. The legislature should be playing a critical role in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinoisans need certainty on our plan- not a response that changes at the Governor’s discretion.”

Bourne went on to explain that House Republicans are looking for a balance between public health and Illinois’ economic survival, and said a new shut down or further restrictions would force many small businesses to close their doors forever. Bourne also expressed worry about Illinoisans who will be thrown back into a state of unemployment while the Illinois Department of Employment Security remains completely ill equipped to handle their benefit claims.

State Rep. Dave Severin is a small business owner in addition to being a legislator. He said the pressure on small businesses of all kinds is ramping up with increased mitigations taking effect.

“There’s a negative chain of effect that happens when segments of the economy are shut down or severely hampered by regulations and mitigations. The closure of bars and restaurants for indoor service means job losses in more than just that industry,” Severin said. “In Southern Illinois, we rely heavily on Main Street businesses to provide jobs and livelihoods for our citizens. The big box stores are doing fine. We’re here today speaking up for Main Street.”

State Representative Dan Caulkins agreed, and said his office is being flooded with calls and emails from business owners worried that increased restrictions or a new shut down order will force them out of business.

“The increased COVID-19 restrictions from Governor Pritzker continue to be made without legislative approval, and small businesses in my district are concerned about potentially being asked to shut down again,” said Caulkins. “His plan is killing Main Street Illinois. Governor Pritzker should call the legislature back to session so we can work together on a fair and reasonable plan to keep businesses open while maintaining the health and safety of everyone. He must stop making these decisions on his own.”

House Republicans defend funding for small, rural hospitals. Under the health care conditions of late 2020, health care providers are stretched to the limit throughout Illinois. This applies with special force to smaller hospitals, which are facing unprecedented demands for acute health care at the same time that routine health care procedures (and related cash flow) have significantly dropped. Cost pressures are so severe that smaller hospitals throughout the United States have been forced to consider filing for bankruptcy.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS), through its Medicaid program, is the largest single payer of hospital billings in Illinois. On Wednesday, November 18, Illinois House Republicans – led by Leader Jim Durkin – sent a letter to DHFS Director Theresa Eagleton describing how we are keeping a close eye on Medicaid expenditures to ensure that these funds will continue to flow in ways that will enable Illinois’ hospitals to maintain their operations. The letter made clear that this scrutiny would be especially applied in the case of payments to small, rural hospitals for services rendered to patients.

October 2020 jobless numbers show sharp but partial recovery. The new numbers for October 2020, compiled and presented by the Department of Employment Security (IDES), indicate that unemployment dropped dramatically in October 2020 to 6.8%. The new numbers indicate that many of the people who had been laid off or put on furlough during the height of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic are going back to work.

However, not all of the lost jobs have been replaced. Many sectors of the Illinois economy, especially small businesses such as restaurants, continue to be hard-hit. During the 7-day period marking the week of November 9, Illinois workers filed 46,526 new claims for unemployment benefits. These claims not only show the challenges faces by many individual Illinois residents and their families, but also indicate the continued underperformance of Illinois’ economy in relation to the economies of neighboring states and the nation as a whole. Illinois has less than 4% of the nation’s population, but more than 6% of the new unemployment claims filed by Americans during that week were filed in Illinois.

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