Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform goes quiet
In response to a series of high-profile ethics scandals last year the General Assembly created the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to hold hearings and study the current state of pay-to-play politics in Illinois. The taxpayer-funded Commission came along at a time when legislators were resigning after being indicted by prosecutors.
After collecting evidence of corruption and unethical behavior by legislators and lobbyists the commission was expected to deliver a report to the public on its findings. That report was due more than six months ago, but we are still waiting to see it. Meanwhile the problem continues to get worse.
Over the summer Illinois House and Senate Republicans called for a resumption of the hearings but those calls for reform were met with silence from the Democrat majority. Last week a coalition of reform groups, including the Better Government Association, Reform for Illinois, Common Cause Illinois, and CHANGE Illinois joined forces to demand that the Commission publish its report. These groups expressed the frustrations of many who are concerned that the inaction by the commission is just another example of Springfield politicians once again sidestepping meaningful action on ethics reform.
State preparing second loan request from Uncle Sam
Following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic Illinois’ tax revenues fell dramatically, while state spending still increased. This was not uncommon among the 50 states, but it was made worse in Illinois by our existing fiscal problems and state government’s unwillingness to pass responsible, realistic budgets. In May the General Assembly passed a budget that relied on the hope of a bailout from Washington to fill a multi-billion dollar budget hole. I voted No.
A short time after that budget went into effect, the Pritzker administration began the process of borrowing more than a billion dollars from Washington to “balance” the budget. Illinois taxpayers will be on the hook for repaying that loan at some point in the future. The money received from that loan has now been almost entirely spent and the state is preparing to go back to Washington for even more.
A few weeks ago the Governor asked state agencies to prepare for budget cuts, but also asked the Office of Management and Budget to start preparing the paperwork necessary to request another loan from the Federal Reserve. The money would come from the federal government’s Municipal Liquidity Facility, a program created by emergency legislation passed by Congress back in March to help the hardest-hit cities and states endure the COVID-19 pandemic.
Donating the pay raise
Last year I pledged to you that I would not keep the pay raise which legislators were given. Instead I would donate the extra funds to a local non-profit serving residents of our district. This month I have donated my raise to the United Way of Livingston County. I am especially appreciative of the work that Deb Howard, the Executive Director, and the rest of the staff at the United Way are doing to help during this time when more of our neighbors than ever are seeking help from nonprofit agencies in our area.
Join our discussion about state revenue
Visit my Facebook page on Thursday at 5 p.m. for a discussion about Illinois’ tax system. My guest will be David Harris, the Director of the Illinois Department of Revenue. Director Harris is a former state representative from Arlington Heights and also served as the commanding general of the Illinois National Guard. We will talk about the different sources of revenue that go into Illinois’ finances and how each of these contributes to the making of a state budget each year. We will also discuss how they have been impacted by COVID-19.
County clerk to answer election questions
This year has seen a number of changes to the way elections will be conducted in Illinois. Join me on Friday at 5 p.m. for a Facebook Live conversation with Livingston County Clerk Kristy Masching. We will talk about the changes to Illinois’ election procedures, including mail-in ballots and the kinds of safety precautions you will see at polling places and early voting locations to prevent the spread of the virus. She will also have information about who to contact with questions between now and November 3.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).