Tax hike Fight, COVID-19, unemployment and more

Tax hike Fight, COVID-19, unemployment and more

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TAXES
House Republicans Stand with Illinois Families, Oppose Democrats’ Second Tax Hike Attempt.

Last year, Illinois House Democrats supported a fantasy budget that relied upon the passage of the graduated income tax amendment and a “fingers crossed” hope for a federal bailout. Instead of living within our means, Democrats attempted to trick voters into raising taxes, and were sorely rejected by Illinoisans across the state.
Now, House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch has suggested yet another attempt to pass a graduated income tax hike on hardworking Illinoisans, despite the fact that more than three million Illinois voters rejected the measure last fall. In response, House Republicans have filed
House Resolution 135, to affirm their opposition to a tax hike.

Every member of the House Republican caucus has signed onto the resolution, signifying their unified support for Illinois families and businesses, who already carry a heavy tax burden and resoundingly defeated the graduated income tax amendment in the last General Election. State Representative Dan Ugaste, who spearheaded this effort, filed the resolution earlier this week.

“It’s no secret that we have serious budget issues in Illinois, but we just can’t keep taxing our residents to cover up what has been decades of overspending and mismanagement,” said Ugaste. “We should be more focused on reopening our state and promoting post-pandemic economic growth to increase our revenue picture, not pushing a second attempt at a failed tax proposal.

Despite over three million Illinois voters opposing the graduated income tax measure on the ballot last fall, it was proposed that another try at passing that tax to cover the State’s growing unfunded pension liabilities, which is currently $144 billion and counting, should be considered.

“We can’t be paying for past liabilities with a new tax increase,” continued Ugaste. “Illinois voters made it clear they wanted no such change in our state income tax structure, and so we must find other solutions.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin echoed that sentiment saying, “This House Resolution is our promise to Illinois voters that we won’t stand for another tax increase as a real solution to solve our state’s fiscal problems. Illinois voters wouldn’t stand for this tax hike last year and we will oppose every effort to change their minds.”

BUDGET
CGFA reports on February revenues. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the nonpartisan budget-monitoring arm of the Illinois General Assembly, looked at cash flows into State coffers during February 2021. During February, overall economic activity continued to be affected by the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic, but many Illinois residents have figured out ways and means to maintain various forms of economic activity. CGFA was able to show healthy February 2021 revenues in several key areas of Illinois’ economy.

Three key “silos” of State revenue are the income tax, the sales tax, and federal aid. All three showed positive year-over-year trends in February 2021 as compared with numbers from a year ago. Income tax revenues, including moneys deducted from worker paychecks, were up $69 million over February 2020. Sales tax revenues exceeded the year-earlier total by $47 million. Federal revenues were up on in February 2021 by $242 million over the prior year. Federal payments to the State of Illinois have fluctuated dramatically from month to month; in particular, money sent to Illinois as matching funds for Medicaid and other health-care cost expenditures tends to flow in asymmetrical lumps.

COVID-19
Major vaccination push helps reduce COVID-19 cases in residential care facilities. Current policies in Illinois, and many other states, are to allocate limited supplies of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine to high-risk patients. This includes senior citizens who are living in residential care and other assisted-living environments. This policy has been in place since the vaccines were first rolled out in December 2020. A two-unit consortium that represents many U.S long-term care facilities reports that since this rollout began, weekly COVID-19 cases have dropped by 82% among nursing home residents. This trend could represent thousands of potential lives saved.

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) represent different groups of congregate-living providers, but have joined hands to conduct the vaccination campaign and report results. The nursing home/group home report was published on Wednesday, March 3.

EDUCATION
Rep. Severin leads Bipartisan Coalition of Legislators and Educators Asking Governor Pritzker and IDPH to Allow 25 Percent Capacity at Extracurricular Events. State Representative Dave Severin is leading a bipartisan coalition of legislators in requesting Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health loosen COVID-19 restrictions at K-12 extracurricular events to allow for 25% audience capacity.

The coalition’s letter, which contains the signatures of both Republican and Democratic members of the legislature, reads in part as follows:

“We have learned from conversations with school officials involved with the planning and execution of hosting extracurricular activities that there have in fact not been major viral outbreaks resulting from allowing previously prohibited extracurricular activities. We believe this is due to the unprecedented effort of local school officials and athletes to take the steps necessary to keep everyone safe.

We believe this same level of safety can be maintained and that outbreaks of COVID-19 can be avoided and mitigated. Therefore, we the undersigned request that grade school, junior high, and high school extracurricular events be allowed to host fans at 25% capacity of each individual gymnasium or school provided extracurricular space that hosts boys or girls school sanctioned contests.

We remain committed to honoring the requests of our constituents and believe wholeheartedly that a 25% crowd capacity and 6-foot social distance limits can be achieved safely. By taking this action immediately, you can help families make memories that would otherwise be lost and ease public pressure on school districts and local officials.”

The Illinois High School Association, the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Association of Athletic Directors, and Illinois Principals Association have also signed the letter and support allowing 25% fan and audience capacity at extracurricular events.

Click here to read the full letter to Governor Pritzker and the Department of Public Health.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Virtual House committee hearings begin. New Illinois House rules allow for critical legislative work and commencement of the bill-enacting process, to be done via online video technology. Key committees of the Illinois House convened under these rules for the first time this week. Committees have begun to meet and report bills to the House floor. The first meetings were held on Monday, March 1.

The use of virtual technology by the Illinois House for committee hearings marks the first time that House members have conducted business on a basis other than face-to-face since the founding of the State in 1818. The General Assembly’s website publishes posted committee announcements of each Illinois House committee and its meeting time. Video and audio feeds of House committee hearings are accessible online.

JOBS
Challenges worsen at Illinois Department of Employment Security. One of the Pritzker administration’s most troubled agencies, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), is in charge of the Unemployment Insurance program. With many Illinois residents having been devastated by the current pandemic, not only is IDES paying out huge sums in UI benefits, but an increasing number of beneficiaries are facing benefit cutoffs. Under current law, a beneficiary can only collect UI benefits for a limited period of time; this gives each recipient an incentive to look for a new job. However, many Illinoisans have jobs that include a specific skill set where there are few new jobs to be had.

Inside a confusing maze of UI programs are additional programs, wholly or partly funded by the federal government, that are supposed to give unemployed Americans additional weeks to collect benefits and look for new employment. One of the largest of these is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, created last March. PUA was created during the first blows inflicted on the American economy by the pandemic. It affects nonstandard workers, many of them contractors in the so-called ‘gig economy’ – Uber drivers and the like. The big push to sign up for PUA was one year ago, and this has created a bulge of Illinois residents whose benefits are facing imminent cutoff. Furthermore, in many cases IDES personnel are taking inadequate steps, or no steps at all, to warn affected persons of their fate.

Many unemployed Illinoisans would like to talk to IDES about their individual problems. However, the Department’s physical offices have been closed for months, for reasons of what are described as “pandemic safety,” and IDES workers are supposed to be working from home to help unemployed Illinoisans. Legislators are hearing from constituents who tell them that urgent UI benefit cases are remaining unresolved for weeks. In addition, phone lines to IDES are jammed, and people with ongoing questions and casework are not getting help of any sort. In a virtual Illinois House committee meeting this week, acting IDES Director Kristin Richards virtually admitted that the Department is overwhelmed by the situation. Illinois House members of both parties demanded that IDES take steps to set up an infrastructure of virtual face-to-face meetings so that Illinois residents can present their problems and get immediate answers.

Moody’s Analytics released their annual forecast of the Illinois economy. Moody’s economic forecast indicates a temporarily robust, but deeply troubled, outlook for the Illinois economy in 2021. Briefly, Illinois economic activity has shown great resilience during the current pandemic, with a wide variety of economic activities switching to different platforms. However, some large categories of work and enterprise – headed by hospitality and restaurants – just cannot switch around. Many Illinois jobs have been lost. Even after the expected economic recovery to take place this year, Illinois’ unemployment rate is expected to still be approximately 6% in December 2021, indicating continued job searches by many affected individuals and failure to achieve full employment.

Illinois’ problems are worsened by ongoing demographic and population decline. Unlike many states, Illinois’ population is shrinking. More people are moving out of Illinois, in search of good jobs, than are coming in. In calendar year 2020, Illinois’ population numbers made our state the 49th of 50 in terms of U.S. population change. This puts Illinois far behind many states with explicit one-industry job challenges, such as coal-rich Kentucky and shale oil-oriented North Dakota. Although Illinois’ economy is highly diversified, with a wide variety of economic focuses, with respect to Illinois’ standing vis-a-vis other states, all of these factors appear to be flashing red at the same time.

On page 9 of their report, Moody’s economic forecasters published a projection that Illinois economic activity will continue to underperform the United States as a whole in the short, medium, and long terms. Illinois is scheduled to grow more slowly than the rest of the country in 2021, 2022, 2023, and 2024. The forecasters cite “weak demographic trends and deep-rooted fiscal problems” as causes for this continuing pattern of unfavorable numbers and comparisons.

VETERANS
Rezin, Welter announce legislation amid failure by Pritzker Administration to implement recommendations from Quincy Legionnaires’ Disease Audit. State Senator Sue Rezin and State Representative David Welter announced legislation this week that would finally implement key recommendations from the Illinois Auditor General’s Performance Audit of the Quincy Veterans Home Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. Both lawmakers said the implementation of the recommendations could have saved lives during the deadly LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 outbreak.

In March 2019, the Illinois Auditor General released its report outlining a series of recommendations for the Illinois Departments of Public Health (IDPH) and Veteran Affairs (IDVA) to strengthen internal policies and procedures. Those recommendations included:

  • Ensuring a timely response for on-site assistance
  • Improving communications between IDPH and IDVA personnel, and
  • Implementing CDC recommendations following a confirmed outbreak.

During the legislative hearings into the LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 outbreak, an IDPH official confirmed IDPH still has no policy governing when the agency will make on-site visits. This lack of a clear policy persists even though IDPH has had nearly two years since the Auditor General’s report recommended that IDPH institute such a policy. As an IDPH official noted at a previous hearing, the failure to go on-site in a timely fashion negatively impacted the state’s response to the COVID outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

“As with IDVA, IDPH must be held accountable, too. It’s the Pritzker Administration’s responsibility to ensure the safety of our veterans, but key recommendations from the Illinois Auditor General’s report were ignored, which led to fatal errors by the administration in their response to the deadly COVID outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home,” stated Sen. Rezin. “The Pritzker Administration had nine months to implement these recommendations before the pandemic began, yet they failed to do so with devastating consequences. They have had another three months to implement these recommendations since this tragic outbreak, yet again they still have not done so.”

In response to this failure, Sen. Rezin has filed Senate Bill 2251, which would implement the core recommendations from the Auditor General’s report. Senate Bill 2251 would do the following:

  • Redefine the definition of an outbreak to include two or more individuals at a Veterans Home who have contracted an infectious disease within 48 hours of the first diagnosis;
  • Require the home administrator or administrative staff to notify IDVA and IDPH as soon as an outbreak has occurred;
  • Require IDVA and IDPH to conduct an on-site visit within one business day of being notified of an outbreak; and
  • Require IDVA to post the findings of the on-site inspection on their website.

Had IDPH developed a policy, as recommended by the Auditor General, state public health officers would not have waited nearly two weeks to respond to the 2020 LaSalle Veterans’ Home outbreak. Sen. Rezin and Rep. Welter said the failure by IDPH to conduct such a visit led to a delay in discovering significant deficiencies and lapses in protocols, including failure to follow CDC guidelines, and the lack of effective supplies to safeguard against COVID spread, including improper hand sanitizer and face masks. By ignoring the Auditor General’s findings, the Pritzker Administration mismanaged the COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

“Safeguards must be put in place to ensure that our nation’s heroes are fully protected in any future public health crisis,” said Rep. Welter. “The fact is the tragedy at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home that claimed the lives of 36 veterans in the state’s care could have been prevented had the Administration acted beforehand to implement the recommendations from the Illinois Auditor General’s report on the Quincy Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, and had they not waited 12 days to conduct an on-site visit at LaSalle. By introducing this legislation today, we are putting the full weight of our efforts behind making the reforms we know Illinois needs to put the health and safety of our veterans first.”

In part because of this delayed response, 208 cases occurred with 36 deaths, making this the deadliest outbreak at a state-run facility in Illinois history.

WEEK IN REVIEW
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