Week in Review: Budget, Madigan retires, education & more


Gov. Pritzker’s Budget Proposal Places Burden on Families and Job Creators. On Wednesday, February 17, Governor JB Pritzker presented his FY22 Budget proposal and “State of the State” virtual address to the Illinois General Assembly. 

The Governor’s budget proposal includes nearly $1 billion in new taxes on job creators. Illinois has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs since the start of this pandemic. Given the massive job losses and the Governor’s utter failure to fix the unemployment benefits mess at IDES, it is outrageous for him to propose eliminating important job creation incentives that are desperately needed to revitalize our economy. 
Two years ago, Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass the Blue Collar Jobs Act as part of a bipartisan budget and infrastructure plan. Now the Governor is going back on his word, proving once again that he cannot be trusted. The Governor’s plan to hit small businesses with a massive tax increase will only cause more financial pain and job losses for Illinois working families. At the end of the day, Illinois families will be hurt the most by his reckless approach to governing and his failure to honor his commitments.

After record high spending in the Governor’s recent budgets, holding spending flat at $42 billion this year simply isn’t enough when this proposal is out of balance by $1.6 billion based on current law, and not the fantasy tax increases and borrowing forgiveness that the Governor assumes will happen. That will be a deficit on top of the $5 billion unpaid bill backlog, $4.3 billion in short-term borrowing and $141 million in unfunded pension liabilities.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin released the following statement in response to the Governor’s budget proposal:

“I’m disheartened by what I heard in Governor Pritzker’s budget address this afternoon. His proposal places a bigger burden on Illinois job creators and violates an agreement he made with our caucus two years ago.

“In 2019, House Republicans worked with the Governor and our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to pass a package of business reforms and promote economic growth in Illinois. Now, two years after signing his name to this agreement, the Governor has gone back on his word.

“At a time when businesses across our state are grasping at straws to stay afloat, Governor Pritzker has proposed a tax increase on all of them by eliminating $900 million in job creation measures. These incentives are needed now more than ever to help rebuild our economy and provide new state revenue.

“We heard nothing in the Governor’s speech today about how his budget works for the Illinois families and businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic and his administration’s response to it. All we have today is another broken budget and more broken promises.”

Madigan’s Retirement Opens a Door for New Ideas, Sincere Collaboration in Illinois. After half a century in office and 36 years as Speaker of the House, Michael J. Madigan resigned from the Illinois House of Representatives effective Thursday, February 18.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued the following statement on the announcement of Mike Madigan’s resignation:

“Today’s news of Rep. Madigan’s retirement comes as no surprise to me and every other Illinoisan, and I have been looking forward to this ‘new day’ in Illinois for some time. I urge the Democrats in both Chambers and the Governor to reflect on how we can use this opportunity to improve Illinois. Rep. Madigan’s autocratic rule over the decades has not made Illinois a more prosperous nor competitive state. Our state is in shambles – financially, structurally and ethically. New ideas and sincere collaboration between the parties is the only pathway forward.”

Winter storm and disaster declaration. The heavy snow that peaked on Tuesday, February 16 has led to a statewide disaster declaration, which will give Illinois the standing to apply for emergency assistance from the federal government. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has a protocol to follow in the case of winter-related disasters. IEMA also publishes a winter storm preparation checklist.

The snow that hit Illinois came in the context of a massive polar vortex cold wave that produced subzero temperatures across much of the central United States. Demands for natural gas reached record highs in many regions of Illinois, and homeless shelters – already hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic – were pressed to the limit.

New culturally responsive teaching standards move towards final adoption. The new standards from the Illinois State Board of Education will affect all licensed teachers and school administrators. The Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards will supplement all of the existing mandates imposed by the ISBE on the institutions of higher education that train future licensed teachers and educators in Illinois.

The overall goal of the new standards is to respond to continuing changes in the identities and backgrounds of Illinois elementary and secondary school students. These standards require teachers and other educators in training to be cognizant of all student backgrounds and life experiences, and that no identity or student background be privileged over any other. The standards take explicit aim against “racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.”

The new standards explicitly demand that all teachers examine their own race/ethnicity, national origin, language, sex and gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical/developmental/emotional ability, socioeconomic class, and religion, prior to getting a license to each school or serve as a licensed educator in Illinois. In addition, explicit language within the new standards point at the allegedly “oppressive conditions” of current Illinois schools, and implicitly encourages future teachers to think of themselves as social justice warriors against oppression.

The new rules were examined by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) on Wednesday, February 17. House Republican members of JCAR expressed dismay at the political tone of the new standards, pointing out that the ISBE document moves away from traditional language in the School Code that directs school districts and teachers to seek out and reward educational excellence. Instead of praising and rewarding excellence, the new standards provide justifications for social activism. A motion by House Republican member Steve Reick to block the ISBE rule did not get any support from the members of the majority party. The unanimous support of the Democrats present for the new standards, coupled with approval of the new standards by Gov. Pritzker’s State Board of Education, clears the way for full adoption of the new rules and their imposition on the teacher-training process in Illinois.

“It’s about basic decency.” After three Scott’s Law crashes in one 24-hour period this week, the Illinois State Police urged Illinois drivers to slow down and change lanes when police and other first responders are at the side of the road. “Scott’s Law” requires that Illinois drivers take a series of precautions, including slowing down (always) and changing lanes (when safe and appropriate) whenever a driver sees a first-responder vehicle on a road shoulder or roadside, especially if the roadside vehicle’s response lights or hazard lights are flashing.

A Scott’s Law crash is a motor vehicle incident where one or more drivers failed to obey Scott’s Law and a first-responder vehicle was part of a collision. Because of the nature of first responses, these crashes often involve more than one first response vehicle. In the six weeks of 2021 so far, a total of ten Scott’s Law crashes have taken place, resulting in six troopers with injuries. Of these ten crashes, three took place in just one day – Tuesday, February 16, a day marked by snow, ice, and other dangerous driving conditions throughout much of Illinois. Dangerous driving conditions make obeying Scott’s Law even more important. Law enforcement is taking active steps to charge motorists who commit Scott’s Law offenses.

A person who violates Scott’s Law faces a fine of not less than $250 for a first offense. A violation that results in injury to another person will trigger a mandatory drivers’ license suspension of 6 months to 24 months.

Struggling unemployment system faces new challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting job losses have led to more than 1.8 million unemployment benefit claims being filed in Illinois – a number equivalent to almost 1 in every 3 employed Illinoisans. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has closed its physical offices throughout the duration of the pandemic, and no longer offers in-person assistance to unemployed Illinoisans. In many cases, Illinois residents have wrestled with dysfunctional computer systems or have waited for many hours on the phone to wade through complex application procedures and file a verifiable application for assistance. House Republicans have repeatedly called for IDES to take critically needed steps to speed up responses to Illinois residents and clear the backlog of unanswered unemployment requests.

A trust fund set up to cover unemployment insurance expenses was depleted before the end of last year. Current cash-flow spreadsheets indicate that by 2024, the Illinois unemployment system will owe between $8 billion and $11 billionfor benefits paid out and not recompensed. Money is always coming into the Illinois UI trust fund from the taxes paid by Illinois employers, but with current business conditions, the cash inflow is not nearly sufficient to meet the deficit. Under current law, the State is supposed to impose much higher taxes on Illinois employers in order to restore the lost cash flow and begin to pay back this massive debt load, but this course of action would lead to continued and intensified job losses in Illinois.

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