Legislative News from Rep. Grant Wehrli

All of Illinois to Face Tier III Mitigations Starting Friday

On Tuesday, Governor Pritzker announced that the entire state will move to Tier III COVID-19 mitigations beginning Friday, November 20. The announcement came as positivity rates continued to climb in all 11 regions in the state. As of today, the positivity rate for Region 8 (DuPage and Kane Counties) is 15.1%. Medical bed availability within the region is at 22% and ICU bed availability is at 32%. For Region 7 (Will and Kankakee Counties) the positivity rate is 20.7%, regular hospital bed availability is 11% and ICU bed availability is 15%.

If there is a positive to be found, originally the Tier III mitigations shuttered businesses and salons that the Governor has deemed “non-essential,” but the list of Tier III mitigations released yesterday eliminated those closures. Big box stores and small businesses are treated the same under the new Tier III regulations, but all face significant capacity limits (25% capacity in all retail stores and 50% at grocery stores). I remain concerned about small businesses, because even though the Tier III mitigations allow their doors to remain open, the restrictions severely limit the number of people who can be inside any store at any one time. I’d like to encourage everyone to support local businesses as they do their holiday shopping. Big box stores are doing fine; small businesses really need our help.

So what is closed under Tier III? Casinos, indoor video gambling terminals, museums, theaters, indoor recreation centers, indoor youth/club and adult recreation sports and certain personal care services, such as facials and beard trimmings, are shut down. Click here to read the full list of Tier III mitigations.

While all regions are moving to Tier III on Friday, each individual region can move back to Tier II when they meet all three of these metrics:

  • Experience a test positivity rate of less than 12% for three consecutive days
  • Have ICU and regular hospital bed availability of greater than 20% for three consecutive days
  • Demonstrate a declining seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalization for 7 or 10 days.

Just one hour before the Governor made his announcement (another unilateral decision with no input allowed by legislators), a group of House Republicans held a press conference and urged the Governor to call a special session specifically devoted to the COVID-19 response. We’re eight months into this pandemic, and since it started in March, the legislature has been in session just four days. Congress and other state legislatures are meeting, and many Illinois boards and commissions are meeting. But not the General Assembly. I support the call for a special session because I am the representative voice of 108,000 Illinoisans and your priorities and opinions are currently not being included in any conversations for COVID-19 response policy. It’s wrong.

In Light of New Indictment, House Republicans tell SIC Chair to Stop Stalling, Reconvene Investigating Committee Immediately

This morning, I joined House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and SIC members Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) and Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) for a press conference where we urged Special Investigating Committee (SIC) Chair Chris Welch (D-Hillside) to stop stalling, and reconvene the bipartisan committee investigating Mike Madigan immediately. The press conference took place less than 24 hours after a new federal indictment was handed down against four additional members of IL Speaker of the House Mike Madigan’s inner circle.

The SIC is charged with investigating the conduct of Michael J. Madigan and determining whether the long-time Speaker engaged in conduct unbecoming of a legislator which constituted a breach of the public trust. The committee has met only twice since it was formed in late August, and hasn’t met since September 29. A November 5 meeting was canceled, and no future meeting dates have been set.

The SIC was formed in accordance with Mike Madigan’s own House Rules, and Chairman Welch and Democrat SIC members Natalie Manley and Elizabeth Hernandez have done nothing but obstruct the panel’s work. We have a duty to explore the petition’s charge and to protect the integrity of the House of Representatives and the General Assembly. Unfortunately, the three Madigan apologists serving on the committee appear determined to protect their leader at all costs.

The first meeting of the SIC was of an organizational nature, and the second meeting included testimony from just one voluntary witness. Attempts by Republican SIC members to issue subpoenas to Mike Madigan and others with intimate knowledge of the ComEd bribery scheme were blocked by Welch at both meetings. Since then, repeated calls by Republicans serving on the panel to reconvene have been ignored.

The people of Illinois deserve a thorough, fair and complete investigation into this petition, and the three Democrats on the SIC have clearly decided that loyalty to Mike Madigan is more important than doing what’s right. No individual, not even the Speaker of the House and Chair of the Illinois Democratic Party, is immune to this important layer of accountability. This process allows us to investigate and discipline one of our own when allegations of wrong-doing and ethical misconduct are made, and especially in light of this new indictment, we must proceed.

In addition to asking that the work of the SIC resume without further delay, we noted that weary House Democrats are slowly removing their support of Madigan as Speaker of the House for the upcoming 102nd General Assembly. We now have heard from 15 House Democrats who claim they will not support Michael J. Madigan as Speaker of the House for the 102nd General Assembly. But with 73 Democrats set to be sworn into office, that leaves 58 Democrat Representatives-elect, including the Representative-elect for the 41st District, who have not publicly stated its time for a change in their leadership. We’re still hearing nothing but crickets from the majority of the House Democratic Caucus.

Budget Hole Currently Estimated at $3.9 Billion for FY21

This information was disclosed in a recent letter from Governor Pritzker to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and the other three General Assembly legislative leaders. It constitutes an admission by the Governor that the budget passed by Democrats in the May 2020 special spring session was not actually balanced as required by the Illinois Constitution.  

Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) began on July 1, 2020 and will end on June 30, 2021. As of mid-November 2020, 4 ½ months of this 12-month period have already gone by. Much of the FY21 spending in this fiscal year has already been spent, or has been committed to be spent in various ways. The general funds budget walkdown prepared by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) shows that the State is on track to spend almost $43.1 billion in budgeted expenditures during a period in which less than $39.2 billion in income taxes, sales taxes, and other revenues will be coming in. The growth in this structural deficit is driven by a wide variety of factors, of which the two most significant are growth in welfare health care costs and growth in pension payments.  

GOMB Reports Ballooning Deficits and Growing Backlog of Bills

Last week the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) reported that in addition to the $3.9 billion budget deficit for the current year, Illinois is facing continuing deficits of $4 billion or more in each of the next five fiscal years. The report also indicated that the state’s backlog of unpaid bills could balloon to a whopping $33 billion by 2026 (the current backlog is $9.1 billion). These sobering numbers point to a critical need for structural reforms. While Democrats immediately look to new taxes as the solution to all financial woes, I don’t believe they can tax their way out of this one. Serious discussions about budget reductions and living within the parameters of existing revenues are needed.

Constitutional Amendment Defeated by Voters

Voters sent a loud message that they disapprove of Governor Pritzker’s graduated income tax that was proposed on this year’s ballot. The constitutional amendment was soundly defeated by Illinois voters. The proposed amendment would have erased a Constitutional protection guaranteeing a flat rate for income taxes in Illinois. This change would not just have hit Illinois’ “wealthy.” It would have also affected farmers and small business owners who flow their business income through their personal taxes. Repealing this constitutional language would have allowed legislators to implement a graduated income tax system, increasing taxes however they wished. But tax rates could have been changed year to year as needed to fund the Democrats’ insatiable appetite for spending. 

Nothing in this defeat prevents proponents of higher taxes from enacting a standard flat-rate tax increase through the conventional bill-enactment process. For example, in January 2011 a lame-duck Illinois General Assembly enacted a major income tax increase, raising the flat income tax rate on individual incomes from 3% to 5%. I will oppose any efforts to increase income taxes. It is time that the legislature brings down government spending and lives within the state’s means. 

Fall Veto Session Cancelled

The Illinois House and Senate are constitutionally required to meet every fall for Veto Session. This year, the veto session was scheduled to begin this week on Tuesday, November 17 and continue until Thursday, December 3. Unfortunately, those who control the Springfield agenda decided to cancel this year’s veto session.

Our state currently faces policy catastrophes on several separate levels. State government is currently spending money at a rate that is almost $4 billion dollars more, per year, than is being paid in taxes. The State’s response to the current COVID-19 pandemic has cost tens of thousands of jobs across Illinois and has not halted the spread of the virus. However, the General Assembly’s leadership has taken steps to cancel the veto session and prevent Illinois lawmakers from meeting to deal with this ongoing crisis.

Illinois Posts $9.1 Billion Backlog of Unpaid Bills

The Comptroller’s office recently released a count of unpaid vouchers submitted to Illinois for payment, and not yet paid. As of Monday, November 9, 82,656 vouchers had been submitted and placed on backlog. The unpaid debts represented by these vouchers are more than $9.1 billion. This number is not a record high for Illinois, but it represents a red-ink total that has not been seen in two and a half years. In early 2018, the unpaid bill total was over $9 billion.  

While these unpaid bills cover a wide variety of goods and services, a large percentage of the unpaid bills have been submitted by health care providers for care and treatments provided to persons on Medicaid or other taxpayer-funded health insurance plans. All of these bills will have to be paid, eventually, by Illinois taxpayers. Furthermore, the existence of this major pile of unpaid bills makes it tougher for Illinois to borrow money to meet its immediate cash-flow needs.   

$3.1 Million in Museum Grants Coming to DuPage/Will Counties

Our local museums are vital to the fabric of our communities. I’m pleased to announce that $3.1 million in funds from the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program are headed to museums in DuPage and Will Counties. This money was provided through the Fiscal Year 2020 (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020) budget. The Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program, administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), is open to any museum operated by local government or located on municipally-owned land. Specifically for DuPage and Will Counties, the following grant money was awarded through the program:

DuPage County

  • Naperville Heritage Society: $749,700 toward an ag lab in the Agricultural Interpretive Center
  • DuPage Children’s Museum: $92,500 toward a roof restoration project
  • Elmhurst History Museum: $255,300 toward operations upgrades
  • Lombard Historical Society: $750,000 toward an expansion of core operations at the Carriage House

Will County

  • Will County Forest Preserve: $750,000 toward Four Rivers Interpretive Improvements
  • Bolingbrook Park District: $505,700 toward a Hidden Lakes outdoor educational pavilion

For more information about the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program, visit the IDNR web site at: https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/grants/Pages/Museum-Capital-Grants.aspx.