Large deficits likely ahead
We are approaching the six-month mark of the coronavirus outbreak and response. In that time, businesses have been shut down, thousands of Illinoisans have lost their jobs or seen their pay cut, and state government has been hit with the one-two punch of drops in tax revenue and the need for large increases in emergency spending for health care. Our state Constitution requires that the budget be balanced, though the legislature went ahead and passed an unbalanced budget in the spring based on the hope of receiving a bailout from Washington. I voted No.
Not surprisingly, the warnings about this irresponsible action are starting to come true. The latest Illinois state budget report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows our state finances are under severe fiscal pressures this year, and the red ink is spreading across the budget. At the end of the fiscal year on June 30, revenue to state government was down by $1.135 billion compared to last year. Illinois is not alone in this emergency. Other large states like New York and California are also under similar pressure according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Yet another call for ethics reform
It seems like a never-ending refrain that Illinois state government needs real ethics reform, but that might be because the troubling allegations against legislators keep piling up. The most recent story concerns the bringing of formal charges against State Senator Terry Link of Lake County for income tax evasion and filing a false tax return. This follows the implication of House Speaker Michael Madigan in a bribery scheme and the indictments last year of other members of both the House and Senate on an assortment of corruption allegations.
We cannot continue on this path. Illinoisans cannot have confidence in their government if we keep hearing about one indictment after another. We need real ethics reform now. I have called for Governor Pritzker to re-convene the House and Senate in special session to debate and pass some of the many ethics reforms which I and other House Republicans have proposed recently. I hope you will join our call by signing the petition to convene a special session to pass ethics reform right now.
Talking Ag with Director Costello
I joined with representatives of our local agriculture industry on Wednesday for a Zoom meeting with the Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture Jerry Costello. We discussed a number of issues and concerns including the need for rural broadband, the status of the $5 million set aside for the livestock industry around COVID-19, meat inspectors, horse racing, export partners and products. We also talked about how to help more young adults get into farming.
Director Costello shared an excellent point that agriculture producers need consumers and vice-versa; that downstate needs Chicago and vice-versa. His broad knowledge on a number of topics and his passion for agriculture was very apparent. We want to thank Director Costello for joining us and look forward to his leadership in helping move Illinois agriculture forward.
Join us for a conversation about local hospitals and COVID-19
Rob Schmitt, CEO of Gibson Area Hospital and Health Services, will join me on Thursday August 27 at 5 p.m. to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on our local hospitals and health care professionals. What are some of their COVID-19 challenges? We will look at preparations, staffing and working with the state and federal governments, as well as other important topics. Visit my Facebook page for more information.
Meeting with local daycare providers
I was recently invited to talk with a group of daycare providers in our district. It was a great opportunity to share some of things going on now in our state but also to hear more about their concerns. We talked about school starting this fall, the state agency rules which daycare providers must follow, and the sometimes inconsistent direction from government. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the issues facing our daycare providers. Thank you for all you do to provide safe and healthy daycare environments.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,610,686,405 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.9 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $137 billion.
More news from around the state
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For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at email@example.com.
My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).