Unconstitutional maps struck down; Unemployment insurance debt

Federal court strikes down unconstitutional district map

On Tuesday a federal three-judge panel agreed with plaintiffs who sued claiming that the gerrymandered legislative district map passed by Democrats in the spring was unconstitutional. Because that map is unconstitutional, the panel went on to rule that it has the duty to determine and approve any legislative map going forward. The ruling applies to the map which Governor Pritzker signed in June. He signed a revised version in September. The panel will use that revised map as a starting point for the crafting of the final version of the maps.

The panel also had strong words for the lack of transparency involved in the process of drafting the map behind closed doors. The resulting deficiencies, including alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution must be addressed. Plaintiffs have until November 8 to submit new proposed maps. This ruling is a major victory for the people of Illinois and all those who have demanded transparency and fairness in mapmaking.

Illinois has more than $4 billion in unemployment insurance debt

When pandemic shutdowns caused unemployment to surge in Illinois last year, the state joined a dozen others in borrowing money from the U.S. Department of Labor to cover the large increase in unemployment payments. The federal law which governs the loans gave the state until early September to repay the loan before it would start accruing interest. Because Illinois missed this deadline, the state has already incurred millions in interest penalties.

We currently owe Uncle Sam $4.4 billion, trailing only New York, California and Texas in the amount owed. Under the law these debts are separate from the other debts the state already owes. Under the federal American Rescue Plan which passed Congress earlier this year, the state was allowed to use some of these federal funds to repay its liabilities to the unemployment insurance trust fund, but it did not do so. Now the remaining share of federal funds is only enough to pay about half of the debt. It was another missed opportunity to improve our fiscal situation.

Two bids submitted for state’s Thompson Center office building in Chicago

For years the state of Illinois has been trying to sell the James R. Thompson Center office building in downtown Chicago. Maintenance and upkeep on the facility has been prohibitively expensive and studies have shown that its location on LaSalle Street could be a profitable private-sector office tower if the state could sell the property. The sale could also provide the state with a much-needed infusion of cash which (if spent wisely) would help with our precarious financial situation.

Illinois passed legislation in 2019 to start the process of selling the property. Earlier this year the building was formally put out for bids. A recent report indicates that at least two potential buyers have now submitted sealed bids to buy the Thompson Center. The bids will remain out of public view until one of them is chosen. The Department of Central Management Services is reviewing the proposals to determine which is the better of the two. If all goes according to plan one of them will be chosen by the end of 2021 and the sale will be completed as early as next April.

Unloading new refrigerators in Gibson City

After a flood disaster, the needs of the affected community go on long after the water recedes. Many of the residents of Gibson City who had their houses flooded by the storm in August lost their home appliances, which are not easy to replace. A few days ago I was honored to join the members of the Gibson City Rotary Club as they delivered refrigerators to local homeowners who lost theirs in the flood. It was just the latest example of neighbors helping neighbors during this ongoing recovery. Civic groups and small businesses from a wide radius have stepped in to help out during the community’s time of need. Thanks to everyone for their help!

Honoring state troopers

As legislators returned to the Capitol this week we were greeted by a fascinating informational display in the Capitol rotunda about a trailblazing group of Illinois state troopers. Back in 1941 Illinois State Trooper William Boyd Lindsay became the first African American state trooper in the entire country. He wore badge number 262. In honor of Trooper Lindsay and the many other barrier-breaking state troopers in Illinois’ history, the State Police commissioned the Trooper 262 Project to research and re-tell the stories of courage and professionalism which were presented in the Capitol this week.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $4,509,132,041 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.1 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

How the violent crime rate in Illinois compares to other states

Illinois congressional district maps receive ‘F’ grade from Princeton Gerrymandering Project

Farmers make up for lost harvest time

Drive-thru produce pantries coming up in Ford County

Illinois is the top state for ghost sightings

Illinois is #11 in AP pre-season men’s college basketball rankings