Calling for local control of re-openings; Ethics watchdog quits

CDC, ISBE issue re-opening guidance for schools; resolution calls for local control

Last Friday the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued long-awaited guidance for schools nationwide which will be re-opening for students in a few weeks. The Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) quickly released a statement recommending that all Illinois schools follow the CDC guidance for re-opening.

The guidance comes after many weeks in which school boards and superintendents have been hanging in limbo waiting for the state to let them know what is going to be asked of them this fall. Illinois school districts face severe potential penalties if their actions are not in accordance with state guidance, including legal liability and the possible loss of state funding.

The new CDC guidelines call for students to return to school in person unless a student has a health condition that requires a learning-from-home individual education program. Vaccinated students and teachers would not be required to wear masks indoors. Masks are recommended on buses and in congregate settings like cafeterias where older kids mix with younger kids. Because children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, the guidance still recommends masks for younger students at school.

But the situation is different in different areas of the state. As case numbers have fallen since the peak last fall, some communities now have very few confirmed active coronavirus infections. I believe that our locally-elected school boards should be able to review the CDC/ISBE guidelines and also take into consideration their local conditions before making their own decision about their district’s re-opening guidelines.

Accordingly, I have joined in co-sponsoring House Resolution 401 which calls on the Governor and other state officials to allow more local control in making these decisions. More than 200 superintendents from around the state have written letters making the same request. The one-size-fits-all approach that we have been following for the past 16 months is not a good method going forward.

Legislative Inspector General steps down

Two years ago the General Assembly hired former Appellate Court Judge Carol Pope to be the new Legislative Inspector General, our top ethics watchdog. This week she resigned after expressing frustration at having her suggestions for reform ignored by the General Assembly.

“The public has had it up to their eyebrows with public corruption,” Judge Pope said on Wednesday. “This last legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority.”

Judge Pope is 100% right. This spring I had a strong ethics bill which would have prohibited legislators from becoming lobbyists until they have been out of office for two years. The House Republican caucus put together a whole package of ethics reform bills, but they were ignored. We ended up passing a very weak ethics bill which many of us supported just because some reform is better than none, but it left much to be desired.

It feels like every few months we have some new scandal, indictment or conviction that makes us hope that it will be the event which finally leads to real ethics reform. We are usually disappointed. But maybe Judge Pope’s eye-opening comments will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and gets the legislature to act on cleaning up state government. Time will tell.

Illinois finishes unusual fiscal year on the upswing

June marked the final month of the state’s fiscal year, as FY22 began on July 1. The just-completed fiscal year began in the depths of the coronavirus shutdown, saw a large rebound as businesses began to re-open, and included a big infusion of one-time federal assistance. In Illinois, personal income tax receipts went up by $4.7 billion for the fiscal year, corporate income tax revenue increased by $1.8 billion and sales taxes were up by $1.1 billion. These figures are compared to the 2020 fiscal year which included more than three months of pandemic shutdowns.

A few days ago the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability released its June revenue report. It showed that overall the state’s tax revenues stayed strong, but as the one-time assistance from Washington began to run out, state revenue fell by $70 million in the month of June.

Illinois continues to have the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation, but thanks to the vast amount of federal relief money which has come into the state in the past year, our credit situation actually stabilized somewhat and one ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, actually gave Illinois an upgrade. The move to the BBB rating level, which is two steps above junk bond status, is the first time Illinois’ credit has been upgraded since 1997. Another ratings agency followed suit a few days later. Since these upgrades are due to a one-time infusion of cash from Washington, we should not let them divert our attention from the need to greatly improve our fiscal management of state government.

Talking transportation in Bismarck

I was glad to be part of the meeting with Bismarck Mayor Mike Brown and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) this week. We covered a number of important issues around road and bridge construction and drainage for the village of Bismarck. There were a number of concerns raised, and the IDOT representatives took notes and listened intently to the issues that came up. Thank you to everyone involved for all that you do to build and maintain our roads. These are important and tough jobs to do!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $3,926,524,576 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $5.3 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

Scammers impersonating nearly every Illinois state department in phishing schemes

ICC approves Ameren’s electric vehicle charging tariff

Illinois finally implementing program that could have saved up to 124,000 jobs during COVID

Youth and adult deer hunting opportunities available on private land through IRAP

State Fair attraction highlights Route 66

Interstate 39 construction in Woodford and Marshall counties begins July 19

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