Week in Review: Crime, energy, state budget & more


Durkin says Time for Reform as Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board Releases Convicted Murderers. Just ahead of the Memorial Day Weekend, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board (PRB) voted to release two convicted murderers, prompting renewed calls from House Republican Leader Jim Durkin to reform the board.

“Governor Pritzker needs to stop appointing PRB members that disregard the rights of victims. His record on public safety has made Illinois a consequence-free state for criminals,” said Durkin. 

On Thursday, May 26, the PRB voted to parole 65-year-old Richard West, who was convicted of killing his father with a shotgun. Since his imprisonment for the crime, the PRB has repeatedly denied parole. West was among a group of inmates who took four guards hostage at Stateville Correctional Center in 1983. His disciplinary record in prison includes possession of illegal weapons, starting fires, and assaulting a correctional officer.

The board also granted parole to 40-year-old Patrick Inocencio, who was convicted of killing a gang rival and wounding three others at an Aurora hotel in 1999. Last year, Pritzker granted Inocencio a commutation, paving the way for him to seek parole for his murder conviction. His parole was opposed by the Kane County state’s attorney’s office.

During Pritzker’s time in office, the PRB has granted parole in roughly one-third of the cases it has heard – a much higher release rate than under previous governors.

In January, Durkin introduced a package of victim-focused reforms to the PRB. Durkin’s legislation would increase transparency, ensure that some board members have a law enforcement background, and require a higher threshold vote for individuals convicted of 1st-degree murder.

Durkin’s legislation would also require the governor to grant or deny the decisions of the PRB to release an inmate on parole or to revoke their parole or aftercare release in cases of 1st-degree murder. These decisions would be subject to FOIA.

“We need a Prisoner Review Board that puts victims ahead of gang members and cold-blooded killers,” said Durkin. “We need to give hope to the forgotten voices in our criminal justice system – the victims of crime – that often feel despair and anguish while seeking justice for the brutal loss of a family member. Their pain is only made worse by the decisions of Governor Pritzker’s Prisoner Review Board.”

National survey finds that Southern Illinois is one of the most vulnerable regions of the U.S. for energy blackouts this summer. The 2022 Summer Reliability Assessment, published by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, tracks all of the electrical grid regions of the 48 continental United States to track their possession of spare generating capacity. Northern Illinois is served by the PJM grid, of which Exelon/ComEd is a local affiliate, and has substantial spare capacity at this time. Although electric bills will continue to go up throughout this region, power (much of it generated by nuclear and gas-fired power plants) will be available.

By contrast, Southern Illinois and much of Central Illinois are served by the power-short Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) grid. This electrical grid, which also covers much of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, traditionally generates much of its power from coal-fired power plants. Many plant owners within this grid, including the owners of coal-fired power plants traditionally owned by local utility Ameren, have shut down or are shutting down their coal-fired power plants. The Reliability Assessment identifies an electrical capacity shortfall of 1,230 megawatts (MW) within the MISO grid area. The Assessment identifies the likelihood that, in heat waves centering during the month of July, power distributors within this area may have to buy electricity off the grid for spiked prices, which they will pass along to their customers. In extreme circumstances, some of the distributor s within the MISO grid area may have to engage in what is euphemistically called “load shedding,” which means that peak load power demand is shed off by blacking out a portion of a service area.

The Illinois House held a joint hearing last week to hear testimony on the soaring electric bills of Central and Southern Illinois, and the possible approaching power crisis in that region. The Illinois House hearing was held on Thursday, May 27.

Price of gas has topped $5 a gallon in most of Illinois. The record-high landmark average price was posted after a new inflationary spiral affected prices for all sorts of goods throughout the United States. Gas prices are monitored by AAA, which generates lists of average prices for each state. A profile of the issue published on Tuesday, May 31 by the Center Square noted that Illinois was the only state east of the Mississippi River to top the dismal $5/gallon mark. Several high-tax states west of the Mississippi, headed by California, also reached this painful mark.

A typical “basket” of household expenses costs $2,000 more per year in 2022 than in 2021 because of the price of motor fuel alone, independently of other prices that are also shooting up. The average American household paid $2,800 for motor fuel in 2021, and will pay at least $4,800 in 2022.

Despite wet soil conditions, most Illinois fields planted. The final May 2022 USDA report on ongoing Illinois crop conditions was released on Tuesday, May 31. The report showed that as of Sunday, May 29, 89% of Illinois corn had been planted and 76% had emerged in the form of green shoots coming up out of the ground. Although this was slightly behind the pace set by last year’s bumper crop, conditions in three-fourths of the cornfields were rated as “good” or “excellent.”

Soybeans are traditionally planted and harvested after the corn. As of the same day, 72% of the bean fields had been planted and 52% had emerged. With the wet field conditions, the first cutting of alfalfa and other hay for stock feed was significantly behind schedule; but most stock farmers had an inventory reserve of hay from last year to get them through the final weeks of Spring 2022.

Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability reports on May 2022 State bond sale, revenues. CGFA looked at Springfield’s budget numbers in May, including a report on the sale of more than $1.6 billion in State bonds during the month. $713 million of these bonds were refinancing bonds, in which existing State debt was rolled over at a lower interest rate. $925 million of the bonds are new bonds to finance capital projects under Rebuild Illinois, and to create funding for the public-sector pension buyout program. With rising interest rates, the State may not have the chance to sell bonds under conditions like this in the near future. The aggregate true interest rate that will be paid by the State and its taxpayers on the debt issuance will be 4.64%. This is much higher than the rate that would be paid by AAA-rated states such as Indiana, but is lower than the rates paid by individuals when they borrow money at current rates to mortgage a home. As with other large borrowers, Illinois asked for and gets an institutional interest rate.

CGFA also reported on ongoing State of Illinois revenues in May 2022, especially as compared with May 2021. As with other month-over-month comparisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, the comparison was an apples-to-oranges one because of changes in the timing of tax filings and payments. Income tax payments by individuals dropped sharply in May 2022 as compared with May 2021, which benefitted from a delayed tax filing schedule in that year. Overall income tax payments, corporate income tax payments, and sales tax payments for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) as a whole are up sharply from FY21, with the aggregate of these three taxes yielding more than $5.7 billion in additional revenue for FY22. In their report, CGFA staff included a note in which they continue to discuss the problem of inflation, possibly leading to a sharp slowing in overall economic growth and even a possible recession. With our fragile economy, Illinois continues to be more vulnerable to future recessions than other U.S. states.

Dates set for General Assembly fall veto session. The November 2022 General Assembly gathering will consider bills vetoed by Gov. Pritzker. New issues may also see legislative action.

As in previous years, the 2022 veto session will straddle Thanksgiving week. The session will begin with three days starting on Tuesday, November 15, and will conclude with three days ending on Thursday, December 1, 2022. No veto session activities will be held during the week of Thanksgiving. This year, Thanksgiving will be Thursday, November 24.

Bird feeders, birdbaths can be set out again. Concerned by March 2022 reports of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) had issued a guidance that Illinois households take down their private bird feeders and allow their bird baths to go dry. The popular backyard items help multiply local songbirds, but also encourage birds to come together and share contact. This conduct allows bird viruses to spread in the same way that viruses spread in humans.

HPAI is a lethal disease that kills many of the birds that it infects. The Department’s avian scientists have identified the current bird virus variant as one that spreads among migratory waterfowl. Canadian geese, whose population has exploded in Illinois in recent years, is a vulnerable population in which HPAI was seen in Illinois this spring. Other types of large birds have been found dead from the virus in Illinois this spring: snow geese, pelicans, mallard ducks, and turkey vultures, among others.

Smaller birds use bird feeders and bird baths. As of late May, the HPAI virus had not yet been seen in songbird populations in Illinois or other locations. IDNR has advised Illinoisans that it is safe to put out these songbird amenities starting on Wednesday, June 1. The Department continues to be concerned that the virus could make a secondary breakout among poultry populations. Like geese, chickens and domesticated ducks are large birds who live in dense, fenced flocks.

“Enjoy Illinois 300” NASCAR race kicks off. The featured Prairie State event will mark the reopening of the World Wide Technology Raceway, in Metro-East Illinois, into the NASCAR circuit. This 1¼-mile Madison, Illinois track, which stands adjacent to Interstate 55, has a capacity of 78,000 spectators. The oval held major car events from 1997 through 2010 before partly closing for a period of years. Although pieces of the infrastructure were mothballed, the facility kept its identity as a car arena before being fully reopened. The reopening allows the track to be used for an Enjoy Illinois weeklong event that will lead up to the NASCAR race. Five days of preparations, including a qualifying event and concerts on Saturday, June 4, were scheduled to precede the actual Enjoy Illinois 300 race on Sunday, June 5. The race at 2:30 p.m. was scheduled to be book-ended with music acts before and after the motor tourney, as is the custom for fully-produced live NASCAR circuit events.

“Enjoy Illinois” operates ongoing website. With the start of summer in Illinois, the tourism promotion team at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has cranked up their event website. Kept going year round, the Enjoy Illinois “Events in Illinois” webpage is especially crowded during the summer travel and school-break season. Listings are classified by region, specific location, category, and date.