Week in Review: Debt, broken promises, crime & more


Illinois Democrats’ UI plan prioritizes pork projects over paying off debt; will lead to tax hikes on Illinois jobs. This week, Illinois Democrats passed a supplemental appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2022 that failed to pay off the $4.5 billion Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund debt owed to the federal government.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Pritzker shutdown of our economy, many Illinoisans lost their jobs and were forced to rely on unemployment benefits to get by. As a result, the UI Trust Fund was rapidly depleted and the State of Illinois borrowed billions of dollars from the federal government to pay UI benefits. The current UI Trust Fund debt stands at $4.5 billion, which does not include $41 million in continually accruing interest.

In response, Illinois Democrats passed legislation that will only pay down $2.7 billion of the $4.5 billion debt owed, despite the fact that Illinois has the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds available to pay off the entire debt immediately. Instead, Democrats chose to keep $1 billion in ARPA funds to pay for Democrat pork projects and other wasteful spending. Republicans have repeatedly demanded that the available ARPA funds be used to pay off the UI Trust Fund debt. The Democrats’ failure to pay off this debt will lead to tax hikes on every Illinois job across the state.

Illinois Democrats had a simple choice, use the ARPA funding to pay off our Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund debt, or impose a tax hike on jobs. As they so often do, Democrats chose a tax hike on jobs.

The pandemic left Illinois with $4.5 billion in UI Trust Fund debt – but, this one-time COVID-related debt also came with a one-time COVID-related solution: CARES and ARPA funds.

Many other states faced the same challenge we do, and they responsibly used these federal relief dollars to pay off their unemployment insurance debt and avoid tax increases or benefit reductions – but not Illinois.

The only way to avoid a tax increase on jobs and cuts to unemployment benefits is to fully pay off the debt we owe to the Federal government using existing ARPA funding. Leaving a $1.8 billion hole with no plan to pay back the money leaves taxpayers on the hook for future increases and leaves the fund vulnerable in case of another emergency.

Instead of spending these funds on Democrat pork projects, we should be paying off our UI debt to avoid a tax hike on jobs and cuts to unemployment benefits.

For Illinois Democrats - Big Promises Made, Big Promises Broken. For Governor JB Pritzker and Illinois Democrats, making and breaking big promises is becoming a way of life. If that sounds like a typical throwaway political attack line, an examination of the last year of action (or inaction) by the governor and the Illinois General Assembly reveals the truth.

From drawing fair legislative maps to promises of honesty in financial dealings, protecting children in the care of DCFS, addressing rising crime, and providing relief for families struggling to afford necessities like food and fuel, Democrats have made some big promises. To this point in the 102nd General Assembly, it seems Democrats' promises were made to be broken.

As a candidate for office, Governor Pritzker promised he would veto any new legislative map drawn by politicians. But after one of the least transparent and most politically divisive redistricting processes in state history, Governor Pritzker broke his promise to veto politician-drawn maps multiple times. Pritzker signed multiple versions of new legislative, Supreme, and Appellate Court maps, insanely gerrymandered Congressional maps, and a new judicial subcircuit map that will allow Democrats to pack lower courts full of Democrat appointees.

When elected, Governor Pritzker promised to put his massive wealth in a blind trust. Pritzker also promised he would not invest in companies that do business with the State and purge his holdings of any companies that have state contracts. At the end of February 2022, the Better Government Association printed a story detailing Governor Pritzker’s 'blind trust' purchase of stock in Centene, one of the State of Illinois' biggest Medicaid contractors. Governor Pritzker denied any knowledge of the investment, and his spokespeople threatened news outlets reporting on the story as potentially libelous.

What about the children in state care the governor promised to protect? The Director of DCFS has been held in contempt of court an astounding eight times due to children in DCFS care languishing in psychiatric hospitals beyond medical necessity. Governor Pritzker keeps pointing to past administrations for the failures even as he approaches his 4th year in office. Yet, there are multiple actions he could take. A January hearing on failures at the agency revealed DCFS is training new caseworkers via Zoom, hiring is lagging behind what is necessary to provide children and families adequate service and protection, simulation labs for training employees are not being used, and the agency is not working with the Illinois State Police to train caseworkers on de-escalation tactics. There is no way a Zoom call can adequately prepare caseworkers for the situations they will find themselves in when making home visits. Children in state care or under DCFS supervision are counting on Governor Pritzker and leaders at DCFS to keep his promise to right the DCFS ship. Improving conditions and outcomes at DCFS is a big promise that the governor must deliver on. Children and families cannot wait any longer.

At the beginning of the current Session, Speaker Welch promised a sweeping anti-crime package was coming, but there's been little said and even less done to move that package forward. Speaker Welch said legislation was necessary to address spikes in carjackings and organized retail theft. Governor Pritzker and Speaker Welch both indicated at the start of 2022 that they would prioritize adequate funding for law enforcement to ensure officers are properly trained and supported. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Democrat crime prevention package has yet to materialize. Republicans have introduced a package of bills designed to keep families safe and properly fund our police, but the Democrat supermajority has yet to allow a vote on any such piece of legislation.

In his Budget Address, Governor Pritzker promised to help families that are struggling because of inflation by cutting the grocery tax and suspending a portion of gas taxes, but there is not a single piece of legislation currently moving to address either issue.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation is at its highest rate in 40 years. The inflation rate has hit new 40-year highs every month of the year so far. Democrats have the power to address inflation but have done nothing while working families continue to struggle. House Republicans have introduced multiple measures to reduce property, income, and sales taxes on food and gasoline, but Democrats have not held even one committee hearing to address inflation.

On the issues of good government, transparency in financial transactions, protecting children in state care, addressing rising crime, and curbing out-of-control inflation, JB Pritzker and Illinois Democrats are piling up empty promises. The people of Illinois cannot wait any longer. The time has come to deliver.

House Republicans Demand Action to Stop Rising Crime, Recall Kim Foxx. At a Capitol press conference calling for the legislature to take action as violent crime continues to rise, State Representative Chris Bos said the legislature must put politics aside and take action to protect Illinois residents before the spring legislative session adjourns in April.

State Representative Tim Butler called for the General Assembly to take up legislation that allows the citizens of Cook County to petition for the recall of the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Illinois State Police to observe its 100th anniversary next week. One hundred years ago, the Illinois General Assembly created the Illinois State Police to take to the roads in 1922. The initial responsibility of the first State Highway Patrol Officers was to enforce the highway weight laws of the state. Governor Len Small, the “Good Roads Governor,” appointed the first eight state police officers on April 1, 1922, making this the first day of the new Illinois State Police. Soon an expanding police force began working in cooperation with local sheriffs to enforce highway speed laws. Ahead would be the tremendous challenge of detecting and intercepting the transport of dangerous and illicit drugs.

In commemoration of this anniversary, the General Assembly has declared each April 1st to be Illinois State Trooper Day. This commemorative day was created by HB 769, enacted in 2017 as Public Act 100-300. The friends of the State Police, and all of the people of Illinois, are asked to remember the State Police each April 1st for the sacrifices they have made, and continue to make, to keep the peace in Illinois. The Illinois State Police Memorial Park, located adjacent to State Police headquarters in Springfield, is a public park to pay tribute to State Police officers who have died in the line of duty. This roll of honor, as of March 2022, contains 72 names.

Three firms bidding for Chicago casino license. Three major providers of Las Vegas-style gaming experiences, Bally’s, Hard Rock and Rivers, were announced this week as the finalists for the role of operator of a future Chicago casino. The proposed new Chicago casino development, which would include space for up to 3,400 slot machines and up to 190 games tables, is expected to create more than 3,000 permanent jobs.

The three finalists have all selected site locations on the Chicago River or the Metra Electric railroad tracks. These development sites are all adjacent to downtown Chicago. Two of the three proposals include significant new multi-thousand-seat halls for concerts or live shows, with the third proposal choosing an outdoor entertainment experience space. The proposed Chicago casino was approved by the Illinois General Assembly in June 2019; its approval was part of an overall expansion of Illinois gambling that also includes sports betting and land-based casinos in Rockford, Waukegan, and the south Cook County suburbs.

South Suburban casino plan moving forward at site on border of Homewood and East Hazel Crest. Like the Chicago casino, this development was authorized by the General Assembly in June 2019. The development, set aside by law to be built in southern Cook County, is meant to be adjacent to Interstate 80. The located site will be next to the Tri-State Tollway portion of I-80 where the superhighway intersects with Illinois Route 1. The development is expected to invest $440 million in South Cook County.

The Illinois Gaming Board is working with local municipalities and the development team that has been granted planning permission. The East Hazel Crest-Homewood site and its developers are putting together a formal license application. Current paperwork indicates that the application will include plans to build a 21-story hotel for casino guests. Guests would be encouraged to visit a gaming floor or floors that will offer up to 1,300 slots machines and 56 gaming tables. The casino complex is expected to create more than 800 permanent jobs.

Blue Cross Blue Shield patients’ out-of-network controversy. The out-of-network status of many Illinois medical care providers is creating challenges for policyholders who get their health insurance from certain large Illinois health care insurance providers, headed by Blue Cross Blue Shield. The current controversy is drawing focus towards what has become the triangular relationship between patients, care providers, and big medical insurance providers; although existing doctor-patient relationships and other care-provider relationships are very important to many patients and their professionals, medical care insurance firms face a different set of priorities and cannot see or feel this importance.

The General Assembly is studying the out-of-network controversy, and taking steps to keep the current situation from growing worse. At a public meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) on Tuesday, March 22, JCAR members asked the state Department of Insurance (DOI) to develop a set of State rules that will grant policy standing to existing doctor-patient and professional-patient relationships. A spokesperson for the Department stated that they understand the urgency of this issue and are working on it.

Illinois unemployment rate at 4.8%. The Illinois unemployment rate was 4.8% in February 2022. These numbers for the recently-ended month were compiled and posted by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) on Thursday, March 24. Trade, transportation, utilities, manufacturing, leisure, hospitality, education, and health services showed Illinois job gains in February 2022.

The 4.8% jobless rate was a 0.2% drop from January 2022. However, Illinois’ unemployment rate was once again higher than the unemployment rates posted by neighboring states and nationwide. The national unemployment rate for February 2022 was 3.8%. Rates were even lower than this level in neighboring states led by Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

Celebrating the legacy of Judy Baar Topinka. In honor of Women’s History month we celebrate the much beloved Judy Baar Topinka.

Judy Baar Topinka's passion for representing the people of Illinois began in 1980 in the House of Representatives. She served four years in the House and then was elected to the State Senate where she remained for 10 years.

After 14 years as a member of the Illinois General Assembly, Judy Baar Topinka ran for statewide office. She was chosen in November of 1994 to serve as Illinois State Treasurer, becoming the first woman in Illinois history to be elected to that office.

Judy was outspoken in her beliefs and worked across the aisle to accomplish her goals. A fiscal conservative, Judy believed in open and transparent government, which was the hallmark of her tenure. She also believed in helping women to succeed in whatever endeavor they chose.

As Illinois State Treasurer, Judy introduced "Smart Women Smart Money," an educational seminar for women about financial matters and "Cash Dash", a computerized program to return “lost” money to the public.

In 2002 Judy was named the head of the Republican Party in Illinois, another first for a woman. She held that post until 2005.

Judy Baar Topinka accepted the nomination of the Republican Party in 2006 for Governor of Illinois, running as the first Republican woman to be nominated for this position. She eventually lost the election to now disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Oh, how our state would have been different if Judy had won!

Then in 2010, Judy returned to statewide office winning the position of Illinois Comptroller. And in keeping with her belief in government transparency and accountability published the state’s cash flow situation in the online report "Monthly Money Matters".

Those who knew Judy often described her as an “original.” She brought color, humor and kindness to the often humorless and unfriendly state government. She instituted one of the most beloved statehouse traditions: Cheesecake Day, when she would open the doors to her office and set out an endless supply of cheesecake for everyone – Republicans, Democrats and anyone in between – to take a five-minute break from partisan battles and enjoy a dessert together. This tradition continues on even today!

She once said she would happily dance a polka with anyone who asked.

In addition to her accordion playing skills, Judy is also known for her compassion for animals, especially dogs. While Comptroller she started an online pet adoption portal to help connect people to animals needing homes.

Judy had strong convictions and didn’t hold back. She was quoted as saying “I am a tolerant person who believes in keeping government out of people’s lives.” Another quote Judy was famous for was, “When women work we win.” How right she was!

Judy believed that by running for office, even when conventional wisdom told her she couldn’t win, she could open the door for other women through her own success.