Coronavirus cases up in Illinois as vaccine eligibility expands
All Illinoisans aged 16 and older are now eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine at one of the more than 1000 vaccination locations now operating throughout the state. Some counties had already moved forward with this expansion, but it is now fully in effect statewide. This expansion of eligibility comes as the number of positive tests in Illinois continues to move upward. The average number of positive cases reported each day moved above 3000 for the first time since early February.
To counter the increase in cases, the state deployed rapid response vaccination teams to several of the counties which had the largest increases, including Woodford County. The state is nearing a 25% vaccination rate, but still has a long way to go before everyone is protected. If case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise we could see rollbacks of the re-openings and a re-imposition of some parts of the lockdowns.
State’s cash flow goes up, but largely due to borrowing
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) has released its report on state government’s cash flow for the month of March. It found that billions of dollars came into the state’s coffers, but that much of that inflow was from borrowing which taxpayers will have to pay back in the future.
Money coming into the state treasury from income tax withholdings and payments was up by $223 million in March compared to one year earlier. Of course we all remember that one year earlier the state’s economy was largely shut down half way through the month, so we are likely to see a favorable comparison this year. There was a similar bounce in cash flow from corporate income taxes and sales taxes. However, the largest share of the increase in money coming into state coffers was from the sale of $1.25 billion in general obligation bonds which Illinois will have to pay back over the next 25 years. Because of our state’s long-standing fiscal problems our bonds hold a very low rating, making them less lucrative than those offered by other states.
House Republicans call for fair redistricting process
This week House Republicans called on Governor Pritzker to join the effort to enact fair district maps as part of this year’s redistricting process. Congressional and state legislative districts must be re-drawn every ten years to account for new census data and to ensure that the districts are equal in population. One of the biggest problems in Illinois state government in recent years has been too much power concentrated in too few hands. A partisan redistricting process has been one of the tools used to accumulate and retain that power.
In 2018 Governor Pritzker said he would support the creation of an independent redistricting commission instead of letting the maps be drawn by politicians in a partisan manner. This week House Republicans urged him to keep his promise and ensure that the maps are drawn fairly, rather than drawn in such a way to keep certain politicians or a certain party in power.
Almost 700 bills out of committee, but did not include urgent reforms
At the end of March the deadline passed for getting House bills passed out of committee and onto the floor for further discussion. Nearly 700 bills reached that stage, but many very good ideas were left behind. The good ideas which did not see any action included bills dealing with ethics reform, property tax relief and pension reform. The Democrat majority promised to work together with Republicans in this session, but of the bills which were allowed out of committee, only 18% of them were sponsored by Republicans. Thus far the pledge to work together has proved to ring hollow.
This week House Republicans spoke out about the failure of the House of Representatives to move forward bills dealing with many important issues. It is a real disappointment to have reached this point and to have seen no substantive action on easing the state’s tax burden or fixing the corruption plaguing state government.
Planting trees in Danforth
A sure sign of spring is the sight of Russ Geisler sharing with elementary school students the importance of trees in our world. On Monday it was great fun watching Russ as he talked with kindergarteners at Danforth Elementary about how to plant and water trees. At the end of the presentation each of the students got to take their own tree to plant at home.
Thank you to Russ and Marilyn so very much for all that you do, and thank you to Superintendent Angelo Lekkas of Iroquois West for the invitation to visit with the kids. It was a fun day all around!
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,653,848,537 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.9 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 $141 billion.
More news from around the state
To get all the latest news and information from every Illinois state agency, visit the state’s newsfeed website at https://www2.illinois.gov/news. There you will find the latest press releases from state agencies. If you want to receive updates only from the agencies you select, you can sign up to receive state agency news alerts by going to https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/gov/pages/communicationsoptin.aspx and signing up for e-mail news updates.
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).