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More than 600 bills sent to Governor’s desk this spring
Far away from the headlines, members of both parties in the Illinois House and Senate worked on many pieces of legislation in the first half of 2021. Clerks have counted more than 660 bills passed by majorities in both houses.
Although some of the bills enacted by the General Assembly have already been signed into law – in particular, three highly partisan measures to enact a State budget, redraw the maps of the Illinois General Assembly, and redraw the maps of the Illinois Supreme Court and its judicial districts – these partisan bills have already run into trouble. The budget has already had to be re-enacted after the first version was passed with numerous drafting errors, the General Assembly map faces litigation, and the Supreme Court has already placed a stay on the judicial map. At the same time, most of the day-to-day work of legislators in the first half of this year was not at all partisan and is slowly working its way through the process.
Illinois’ Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund faces multi-billion dollar deficit
Unemployment insurance benefits in Illinois are funded through the Illinois Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund, a rainy-day fund built up through taxes paid by employers. With unemployment spiking at high double-digits during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois UI Trust Fund was depleted, and was forced to borrow money from the U.S. Department of Labor in order to pay out benefits already promised to unemployed workers. As a result, the Illinois UI Trust Fund is currently approximately $5.2 billion in the red with projections that the total debt may rise up to $8 billion. Starting after Labor Day of this year, we will begin to owe interest to Washington, D.C. on these billions of dollars in UI debt.
Knowing the interest is coming due, my House Republican colleagues and I demanded in May that Illinois allocate a significant portion of its one-time American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal aid money to partially pay down this massive debt. However, the Pritzker Administration and Democrat majorities in the General Assembly only allocated a crumb ($100 million) of ARPA money to chip away at this massive new UI debt, forcing employers and workers to pay the remainder of the debt in other ways. I will keep you posted.
Slight upgrade to Illinois’ credit outlook
The three major New York-based bond-rating agencies agree that the State of Illinois has the lowest credit rating among the 50 states (BBB-, one step above junk bond status), however, Fitch Ratings has this past week revised Illinois’ debt outlook from “negative” to “positive.” The move reaffirmed our very poor bond rating, and for now, ensured that Illinois taxpayers will continue to be required to pay much higher interest rates than those charged to AAA-rated states, such as our neighbor Indiana. But it also offered hope that a move to fiscal prudence could pull Illinois up from the brink of junk bond territory. We desperately need a General Assembly and a Governor committed to spending taxpayer money prudently and responsibly.
COVID Roundup – Executive orders, U. of I requirements, Vaccination lottery
Governor Pritzker has again extended several of his executive orders regarding COVID restrictions, including mask and social distancing mandates in schools. Read more here.
Additionally, as part of their planning for the fall semester in 2021, the University of Illinois System is preparing to mandate that all on-campus students show proof of vaccination for COVID-19. The U of I System includes three undergraduate campuses in Chicago, Springfield, and Urbana-Champaign. The System also includes medical campuses, institutes, and affiliated operations of scholarship and higher education located throughout the state.
Meanwhile, a new “lottery” has been created to provide incentives for more Illinoisans to get vaccinated. Under the rules of the new “All In for the Win” COVID vaccine incentive, all Illinois residents who have received COVID-19 vaccinations are eligible to have their name selected for prizes, including $7 million in cash payouts and $3 million in Bright Start 529 college savings plans. Names will be drawn each week starting on Thursday, July 8.
Drivers license renewal extended
Secretary of State Jesse White has extended the deadline for renewing Illinois Drivers Licenses and state ID cards to January 2022. Read more here about how to void the current long waits at Drivers License facilities.
If you’re going in person with someone who can’t tolerate a wait in line it’s best to call ahead. Also go to cyberdriveillinois.com to see if you can renew online.
What we owe
As of July 1, Illinois’ current backlog of unpaid bills is $2.6 billion. The backlog includes General Funds liabilities currently at the Illinois Office of Comptroller and the estimated $418 million reported by state agencies. It does not include $1.928 billion in short-term borrowing and emergency borrowing that is required to be repaid.
Around the district
Thank you for the opportunity to provide a Springfield update to the Kiwanis in El Paso. I appreciate the questions and the dialogue.
Glad to attend the Community Bankers (CBAI) Legislative Roundtable at The Cannery in Eureka. Good to visit to learn more about how COVID has impacted banking and where we go from here.
Loved visiting Zumwaldt Acres in northeast Iroquois County. The farm has been in the family for 150 years, and is an agroforestry farm practicing methods of agriculture that are regenerative and draw down carbon.
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.
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