Week in Review: Pork projects, DCFS, corruption & more

Illinois Democrats put pork projects before people. Illinois House Republicans held a Capitol press conference Thursday to discuss the Democrats’ prioritization of pork projects over the people of Illinois.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said there are “hundreds” of examples of spending for projects from Democrat-only legislators

“That simply say ‘to go to this organization for operations,’ whatever that means,” Demmer said.

“The state has no ability now to tie that to any performance metric, to try to reach any specific goal with it. It just says ‘to operations.” There is no oversight, there is no check and there is no balance.” […]

Demmer said there’s a heavy reliance on federal COVID-19 relief dollars that will soon dry up.

“Democrats in Illinois, like they have in the last several years, will have no choice but to come back to taxpayers and say ‘we need yet another income tax increase,’” Demmer said.

Using billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds, Illinois Democrats passed a $46 billion budget in the early morning hours of April 9, 2022, which included billions in Democratic pork projects for Democrat-held districts. Instead of paying off the existing debt in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, Democrats chose to spend that money on pork-barrel projects for themselves. The Democrats’ failure to pay off the UI Trust Fund debt will lead to tax increases on Illinois jobs and reduced benefits for unemployed workers.

These pork-barrel funds could have been used to enact permanent tax relief for Illinois families struggling with skyrocketing gas prices, high property taxes, and near record high inflation. Instead, the Democrat-passed budget created several small, temporary tax cuts that politicians can use in their re-election campaigns. This temporary tax relief will expire shortly after the November election. A much-trumpeted “motor fuel tax increase pause” will temporarily reduce the price of motor fuel by approximately two cents per gallon – a tiny fraction of the overall current price of gas. Furthermore, the motor fuel tax pause will end on December 31, 2022, leading to even higher gas prices in 2023.

Damning audit of DCFS shows agency is failing Illinois children. On Thursday, May 12, the Office of the Auditor General released the results of its performance audit of DCFS Child Safety and Well-Being.

Pursuant to P.A. 101-237, the Auditor General conducted a performance audit of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). There were three areas in the Children and Family Services Act (20 ILCS 505) and one area in the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (325 ILCS 5) that P.A. 101-237 affected and the audit found that the Department was not in compliance with any requirements of the Acts.

State Representative Tom Weber issued the following statement in response to the release of a damning audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Service’s performance in 2020:

“This disastrous audit confirms what we all feared, that DCFS is failing our kids and not meeting even minimum standards as required by law. It’s a miracle more children haven’t died.

This report is chock full of DCFS’ inability to keep track of key information, to provide mandated medical care to children in the state’s custody and, most alarmingly, to ensure the safety of a home before a child is returned after having been removed because of abuse and neglect allegations.

When you have a 98% failure rate, something is horribly wrong. There were 102 deaths of children in contact with DCFS in the year covered by this audit. How many of those children died because DCFS failed to not only ensure the homes they were put in were safe, but to not even try? What will an audit reveal about 2021 when 122 children died? Is that the progress Governor Pritzker and Director Marc Smith have been telling us they’re making?

While DCFS has had problems for many years, the mismanagement under Pritzker’s administration despite increased funding and years of vows to improve, this report outlines statutory negligence to a staggering degree. DCFS needs to answer for these grievous mistakes and so does Director Smith. Both he and Governor Pritzker have had plenty of time to right this ship, or at least make positive progress. This audit shows there has been absolutely none of that.

Kids who were in danger across this state were not protected by DCFS in 2020, and with the increasing number of children’s deaths, they still aren’t.”

Responding to the issuance of the Illinois Auditor General’s Child Safety and Well-Being performance audit of DCFS, State Representative Steve Reick issued the following statement:

“Today’s report once again shines a harsh light upon the systemic failures of DCFS to protect children in its care. Among the most glaring shortcomings were the Department’s failure to document home safety checks prior to returning children to their families and a lack of documentation showing that a required six months of aftercare services are being provided and that routine medical care is being provided.

Just as damning is the fact that throughout the audit, DCFS maintained that it couldn’t provide information on welfare service referrals under the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) because it didn’t have a mechanism to keep track of such information. However, on April 19, after the final audit exit interview, the auditor was told that DCFS was in fact keeping track of this information and could have provided it. The result was that this critical part of the review went completely unexamined.”

Since 2019, Representative Reick has been part of a bipartisan working group examining the workings of DCFS. He has proposed legislation for a pilot program in McHenry County (H.B. 634) to create a local child welfare department to replace the top-down system we now have.

“An audit shouldn’t raise more questions than it answers, but such is not the case here. For instance, the Governor has consistently blamed the prior administration for starving the Department of funding, and since 2019, the Department’s enacted appropriations went from $795 million to $1.3 billion in the 2023 budget. Expenditures went from $780 million to $1.15 billion. Even with almost twice the funding, 64% of the positions on the Department’s organizational chart remain unfilled. Where did all that money go? It’s time to stop casting blame and start taking responsibility.”

Illinois ranked as America’s third-most corrupt state. For the third year in a row, Chicago is America’s most corrupt city, and Illinois is the third-most corrupt state, according to an annual report from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The report, co-authored by University of Illinois at Chicago professor and former 44th Ward Ald. Dick Simpson, is based on an analysis of the public corruption statistics published by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The sheer number and political stature of the Illinois elected officials and business leaders who were implicated, indicted or convicted in 2020 is staggering,” Simpson said.

In 2020, there were 22 public corruption convictions in the Northern District of Illinois, which includes all of Chicago and the northern third of Illinois — a slight drop from the 26 convictions recorded in 2019, according to the report.

Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic nearly shut down state and federal courts, 2020 was one of the most “significant” twelve months in the “startling saga of political and public corruption in Chicago and Illinois,” Simpson said.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Thursday it’s no wonder Illinois is among the most corrupt.

“You just have to look and see what the corruption tax has done and how it has played out in the past two years,” Durkin said. “We have approximately nine former Democrat senators and representatives who are either defendants or have pled guilty in the federal court to various corruption and also violations of the tax code.”

The highest profile corruption case in Illinois is that of former House Speaker Michael Madigan. He’s pleaded not guilty to 22 federal corruption counts alleging he used his elected position for personal gain. Madigan has pleaded not guilty and the case is pending in federal court.

Durkin said one thing that feeds the corruption is budgets that taxpayers don’t get to see before it’s too late.

“These backroom deals and secrecy drives fiscal chaos in this state and also breeds corruption,” Durkin said.

Illinois State Police donating protective equipment to Ukraine. The Illinois State Police (ISP) is donating more than 3,000 pieces of protective equipment, including body armor, ballistic face shields, and ballistic helmets to help the Ukrainian citizens enduring the Russian invasion. By U.S. standards, this equipment can no longer be used by ISP or any other law enforcement agency within Illinois. Most body armor in the U.S. has a standard five-year life span. However, it will still offer some protection to civilians, humanitarian aid workers, and others in the Ukraine. This surplus equipment must be disposed of if it is not donated to the Ukraine.

ISP coordinated the donation with the Illinois National Guard, the United States Department of Homeland Security, the United States Department of Commerce, and the United States Department of State to transport the equipment as well as ensure compliance with all Federal and State laws and regulations.

Nominations due by June 1 for Senior Illinoisan Hall of Fame. The Illinois Department on Aging (IDoA) is reminding residents about the upcoming deadline to submit nominations for the Senior Illinoisan Hall of Fame, open to adults aged 65 and older who excel in the categories of community service, education, performance and/or graphic arts, and the labor force.

The Senior Illinoisan Hall of Fame was established by the General Assembly in 1994 to honor older adults' accomplishments and contributions. Each year, four Illinoisans aged 65 or older are inducted into the Hall of Fame for their work in community service, education, arts or the labor force.

Nominations for 2022 inductees must be submitted by June 1. For more information or to submit a nomination, please visit https://www2.illinois.gov/aging/HallofFame.

Justice Rita B. Garman to retire; replacement named. The senior judge of Illinois’ highest court, Rita Garman, announced her retirement this week. An experienced justice and the second woman to sit on the Illinois Supreme Court, Justice Garman will step down on July 7, 2022. Garman has represented the Fourth Judicial District in central Illinois since February 2001, compiling more than two decades of service on the Supreme Court. Justice Garman led the Court as its chief justice for a three-year term from October 2013 until October 2016.

Under the Constitution of Illinois, when a justice retires during his or her term, the high court picks a replacement. The Supreme Court has selected one of the Judicial District’s appellate judges, Lisa Holder White, to serve as Justice Garman’s appointed replacement. Holder White will be the first African-American woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

Lunar eclipse will darken full moon on night of Sunday, May 15. The eclipse will be visible throughout Illinois. A lunar eclipse, unlike a solar eclipse, can be seen by up to one-half of the earth-surface, and can be a shared experience for hundreds of millions of people. In the case of the May 15 eclipse, the moon’s shadow will be centered over South America, but will also be visible throughout much of southern and eastern North America.

A total lunar eclipse also lasts longer, for those who see it, than a total solar eclipse. In the case of the May 15 lunar eclipse, the moon will fall entirely inside the Earth shadow for more than 84 minutes. In Chicago, this phase of “totality” will begin at 10:29 p.m., and end at 11:53 p.m.