Week in Review: Veto, redistricting, violent crime & more


Veto session begins next week. The Illinois General Assembly will convene in Tuesday, October 18, with a congressional redistricting map as the chief focus of attention. In addition to redistricting, issues of violent crime, COVID-19 mandates, and the State’s increasing debt load will continue to be issues of concern for House Republican members. In addition to Illinois’ “general obligation” debt, Illinois taxpayers owe hundreds of billions of dollars in pension debt and a new, nearly $5 billion debt owed by Illinois’ Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
House Republicans have pushed throughout 2021 for long-term, strategic State fiscal planning based upon a realistic grasp of cash flows and future outcomes. For more information about our Responsible Fiscal Leadership platform, please visit ReimagineIllinois.com.

Democrats release new congressional map drawn behind closed doors. On Friday, October 15, the Democratic majority released a proposed map of new congressional boundaries for Illinois.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the new congressional map, based on the 2020 Census, was drawn to favor voters electing Democrats in 14 districts leaving only 3 where Republicans can easily win. The current map, based on the 2010 Census has Illinois sending 13 Democrats and 5 Republicans to Congress.

Below is a statement from House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) on the recently released Illinois Congressional maps:

“In another insult to Illinois voters, Democrats drew more partisan maps to benefit their incumbent politicians and protect Nancy Pelosi’s failing majority.”

The Illinois House Redistricting Committee held more sham “hearings” on the congressional map this week, but none of the witnesses who testified before the committee were allowed to see the proposed map. At least one witness asked to see the new map, discuss it with community groups, and review the new map and the process used to draw it. The majority Democrats ignored that witness’ request.

Thursday was the first time the committees returned to the Capitol. However, there were more reporters than lawmakers in the room. No one from the public showed up to testify virtually or in-person.

Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) was the only committee member in the House committee room. Butler stressed that the majority party continues to ignore groups who testify. That's why he feels no one is showing up to give their suggestions for the new maps.

"People want an open transparent process where they know what's going on," Butler said. "That they get ample time, at least two weeks, which multiple groups have said, to respond to any maps that are introduced, and to do it in an open and transparent manner."

Butler is also concerned that Democrats are trying to create judicial subcircuits in counties that have never had them before. Democrats are focused on changing the subcircuit for Cook County, but some worry they're looking at significant structural change to courts across the state.

Finalized hearings for the House and Senate Redistricting Committees are as follows:

· House Hearing: Wednesday, October 20 at 9:00 a.m. at the Illinois State Capitol, Room 114
· Senate Hearing: Wednesday, October 20 at 2 p.m. at the Illinois State Capitol, Room 212 (Virtual Hearing – participants may testify at the hearing location or via Zoom)

Illinois faced with more than $4 billion in unemployment insurance debt. Along with twelve other states, Illinois borrowed money from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) to cover its outstanding unemployment insurance (UI) benefit payments. The USDOL lent the money under Title XII of the federal Unemployment Insurance Act, a section of federal code that requires the states to pay interest and service the principal. Title XII came into play during the 2020-21 coronavirus pandemic and associated job layoffs.

As of Wednesday, October 13, Illinois’ UI debt to Washington, D.C. was more than $4.4 billion dollars, representing the fourth highest sum owed by the thirteen states with current Title XII debts. Only California, New York, and Texas have Title XII debts surpassing those of Illinois. Illinois began accruing interest on this debt on September 6, accumulating over $3.54 million in interest penalties in just over a month. This interest payment is due by September 30, 2022.

At the current time, the Title XII debts owed by the Illinois unemployment insurance system are legally separate from the other debts owed by the State of Illinois. However, federal law could also impose future tax penalties upon employers in states that default on their Title XII UI debts, which places pressure upon Illinois to service and refinance this obligation.

Federal guidance allows the State of Illinois to use the $8.1 billion it received in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds to pay down its UI Trust Fund liabilities; however, no ARPA funds have been dedicated to that purpose. It is not clear as to how much of the State’s ARPA funds remain unencumbered, but according the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget documents released this summer, there could be as little as $2.3 billion remaining. The Governor and Democrat majorities in the General Assembly have seemingly prioritized pork projects and new spending with the available ARPA lifeline funds, appropriating $2.8 billion for capital projects and programmatic spending. Additionally, the Pritzker administration has begun to discuss borrowing additional money to refinance this debt.

According to GOMB’s budget documents, the Governor is also reserving $2-$3 billion in ARPA funds to help fund essential government services in FY22. Appropriated funds ($2.8 billion) when added to ARPA funds held in reserve ($2-$3 billion) leaves only $2.3-$3.3 billion in ARPA funds remaining from the $8.1 billion the State received. To make matters worse, these ARPA funds are intended to last the State until the end of calendar year 2024. It is clear that under the current budget framework laid out by the Pritzker administration that there is only enough remaining ARPA funds to cover half of the UI Trust Fund deficit.

Work continues on projected sale of the James R. Thompson Center. The all-glass, 17-story Loop office building, which opened in 1985, needs a major retrofitting or to simply be torn down. Current trends in State employment and Chicago real estate indicate that the building’s LaSalle Street property footprint could be rebuilt as the site of a modern private-sector office building. High-level financial transactions could take the place of State of Illinois administrative work.

Based on this market reality, and with the goal of developing a one-time infusion of capital that could be used to improve the State’s credit and financial standing, House Republicans have advocated a process to offer the aging building for sale. Illinois moved towards this goal in a 2019 law, and early in 2021, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) put out the Thompson Center and its real estate for bids. An October 2021 report indicates that two potential buyers have submitted sealed bids to purchase the property.

Coronavirus outbreaks continue, even as overall Illinois case count drops. Many Illinois parents continue to be deeply concerned over reports of continuing COVID-19 outbreaks in schools and day care centers.

At the same time, current case-count trends indicate that the coronavirus’ “Delta variant” is spreading more slowly. Case counts are declining along a pathway similar to that charted by Illinois after previous variants of the enduring virus. This decline has been speeded by continued moves toward coronavirus vaccination. On Tuesday, October 12, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that that the October average number of new Illinois COVID-19 cases had dropped by 27% compared with daily case counts in September. IDPH indicated that nearly 56% of Illinois’ 12.7 million people have been fully vaccinated for coronavirus, which has reduced the ability of the virus to spread from person to person.

Even with the majority of Illinoisans vaccinated, COVID-19 continues to be highly contagious. Children under age 12 still cannot be vaccinated yet; and although young children rarely suffer life-threatening illness from the virulent virus, they can spread the virus to others. This week, even with a continuation of the overall decline in the Illinois case count, an average of more than 2,400 new COVID-19 cases were reported daily.

Violent crime continues to increase in Illinois. Data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) showed that in 2020, the annual count of murders surged nearly 30% throughout the United States compares with the previous year. One of the highest rates of the 2020 annual increase among the 50 states was recorded in Illinois, with overall violent crimes up by 4%. In 2020, 426 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 people. “Violent crime” is a precise phrase used in law enforcement to reflect an incident where a victim is harmed by or threatened with, personal violence. Violent crimes include sexual assault, robbery, assault, and murder.

Despite the surge in violent crime, during the January 2021 lame-duck session, Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly passed a new law that will reduce law enforcement’s ability to fight crime and will release violent criminals back onto our streets. Law enforcement, and Illinois House Republicans, have pushed back against the negative effects of this new law. Although Illinois media reports continually tell the story of increasing violent crime in our state, Illinois Democrats have thus far refused to take steps to modify their dangerous law.

Cocoa processing plant being built in Bloomington. Wednesday was a sweet day in Bloomington/Normal! Rep. Dan Brady, Congressman Rodney Davis, and Mayors Chris Koos and Mboka Mwilambwe joined in the groundbreaking for a new $75 million Ferrero chocolate processing facility. Ferrero currently provides 1,400 jobs at three plants in Illinois. Their new expansion at the former Beich/Nestle facility will add another 50 jobs.

Ferrero, a Europe-based global confectionery firm, is building a 70,000-square foot, $75 million cocoa processing plantin Bloomington, Illinois. The chocolate production will go into packaged candy brands made by Ferrero in three factories located in Illinois and in Ontario, Canada. Bar and boxed candy brands produced by Ferrero include 100 Grand, Raisinets, and Crunch.

Groundbreaking for new Central Illinois passenger train complex. The new transportation hub will serve Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed trains. A multiyear project is shifting Springfield Amtrak service to a new set of tracks that will be physically separated from vehicle traffic throughout most of the city. City and state leaders broke ground this week on a new Amtrak train station to be built adjacent to Springfield’s downtown center, to serve the rebuilt track line. The ceremonial groundbreaking was held on Tuesday, October 12.

The new station and its track right-of-way is a joint project of the U.S. federal government, the State of Illinois, the city of Springfield, the county (Sangamon County) in which Springfield in located, and two railroad lines and their holding companies. The new transportation hub will cost almost $90 million to build, and is expected to be completed in 2025.

By contrast, when Central Illinois’ first train stations were built in the 1800s it took workers only weeks to raise them. Three old Springfield train station buildings, including a descendant of the structure from which President-elect Abraham Lincoln bade farewell to Illinois on February 11, 1861, recall this earlier railroad era in Central Illinois.