Legislative News from Rep. Grant Wehrli

As Republicans Push for Subpoenas and Testimony, SIC Democrats Shut Down Madigan Investigation 

House Democrats from the Special Investigating Committee (SIC) shut down the committee’s work last week by refusing to call additional witnesses or to issue subpoenas to Mike Madigan and others with intimate knowledge of a nine-year bribery scheme between Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and the Speaker. After truncating the committee’s work, Democrats voted that the Speaker did not engage in conduct unbecoming of a legislator which constituted a breach of the public trust. As a member of the SIC, I viewed the evidence as incontrovertible, and I voted that yes- the Speaker did engage in conduct unbecoming and did breach the public trust. Two other Republicans on the Committee also voted yes. With the vote tied at 3-3, the motion failed. While House Democrats were successful in shielding their mentor and friend, the federal investigation into political corruption and Michael J. Madigan continues.

The petition to investigate Speaker Madigan’s alleged involvement with the ComEd scandal was filed in late August. After an initial organizational meeting, the panel met in late September and heard testimony from ComEd and Exelon’s Chief Compliance Officer David Glockner. Glockner provided several hours of testimony and outlined a pattern where Madigan’s closest ally Mike McClain pressured ComEd to provide payments, contracts, jobs and a seat on the ComEd Board of Directors in an effort to gain favor with Speaker Madigan. Subsequent emails supplied by ComEd cemented the notion that McClain was acting on behalf of the Speaker and that the Speaker was aware of the scheme.

The Democrats’ decision to halt the work of the SIC is indicative of the deep-rooted problems Illinois is experiencing with regard to political corruption. The SIC was charged with conducting a thorough investigation, but in the end we met three times and heard from just one voluntary witness. There’s not a soul who can say we conducted a thorough investigation. What we did learn through these three meetings, however, is that House Democrats will go to whatever lengths are necessary to protect Mike Madigan from having to testify under oath about his involvement in the bribery scheme. We also learned that a lack of ethics runs very deep within the House Democrat caucus, and that House Rules may apply to some lawmakers, but they don’t apply to Mike Madigan.

Illinois’ Budget Deficit Leads to Spending Cuts, Push for Higher Taxes

House and Senate Democrats passed a blatantly unbalanced budget in May 2020 that included a $6.2 billion deficit. This “budget,” to pay bills in Fiscal Year 2021 (which began on July 1, 2020), pledged money the State of Illinois did not have, and still does not have. When asked about this non-existent money, Governor JB Pritzker and his Democrat allies predicted that additional federal stimulus funds would arrive and that their income tax constitutional amendment would be approved by Illinois voters in November 2020. Well, federal stimulus money did not arrive and voters resoundingly defeated the graduated income tax ballot question.

Last week the Governor offered up $711 million in spending reductions, including a hiring freeze, grant reductions and operational savings. Meanwhile, in an attempt to hold on to the role of Speaker, Mike Madigan is making major promises to members of the House Democratic caucus – including an income tax increase. The Speaker is also positioning himself as the only person with the immense body of political connections needed to pass an alternative package of tax increases that he says are the solution to Illinois’ disastrous finances.

Illinoisans are fighting back against the tax increases “promised” by Speaker Madigan. To show your opposition to higher taxes, please Sign Our Petition to Say NO to Madigan’s Tax Increases!

Illinois One of Only Two States Accessing Municipal Liquidity Facility Funds

Illinois’ fiscal condition continues to deteriorate. Over the weekend, the Governor accessed $2 billion from the Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF), which is an emergency borrowing mechanism created at the Federal level and overseen by the Federal Reserve to help cash-strapped states due to a failure of revenues due to COVID-19. The $2 billion loan comes with an interest rate of 3.42% and must be repaid within three years. 

Corresponding state legislation (SB 2099) to access the MLF passed in May. This legislation created the Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency Borrowing Act, or CURE Borrowing Act, which authorizes the State to borrow up to $5 billion through the MLF at Federal Reserve. The $5 billion authorization was subsequently used to balance the FY21 budget. The $2 billion in borrowed funds were transferred from the Federal Reserve into the state’s General Revenue Fund (GRF) and then immediately spent.  The Comptroller is using most of the MFL proceeds to pay down the state’s Medicaid backlog, which will allow the state to leverage an additional $1 billion in federal reimbursement. 

Illinois was the first state to tap into the MLF, accessing $1.2 billion in June of 2020 to help cover FY20 revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19 and subsequent three month extension of the income tax filing deadline. The only other entity to borrow from the MLF is New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which last week borrowed $2.9 billion at 1.33% – a rate that reflects their A- credit rating.

COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin in Illinois

The first Illinois COVID-19 vaccinations were administered on Tuesday, December 15. Only a small number of Illinoisans will be initially eligible for shots, as the vaccine begins to be distributed in limited doses. Front-line health care workers, including those at Edward Hospital, will be first in line for the two-step procedure.  Residents and staff at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, will also have a place in line.  Vaccines will be administered in line with nationally coordinated guidelines determined by public health professionals under the supervision of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will oversee the distribution and administration of the vaccine. IDPH has posted the guidelines that health care providers will use in determining who will get the vaccine in order.  In the early stages of vaccination, only hospitals will be approved locations to be vaccinated. The first type of COVID-19 vaccine, from Pfizer, requires chilled storage and handling by skilled personnel. In addition, hospital-trained personnel will be on the lookout for any side effects that the vaccine may produce. Eventually, vaccines will become available in doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) throughout Illinois.         

Hearing on COVID-19 Outbreak at LaSalle Veterans Home Illustrates Pritzker Administration’s Slow Response

On Wednesday, December 16, the Illinois House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held an in-person hearing in Chicago in response to the tragic deaths of 33 veterans at the LaSalle Veterans Home.

Republican members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee sent a letter on November 10 to Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, the Chairperson of the committee, requesting an immediate hearing and swift response to the outbreak, pledging to work together on a bipartisan basis. Kifowit did not respond to the Republicans’ request until December 4, and the hearing itself was not held until December 16. Wednesday’s hearing revealed that, inexplicably, it took twelve days from the initial outbreak at LaSalle before the Illinois Department of Public Health sent personnel to conduct an infection control assessment, by which time the outbreak had spread throughout the Home and lives had already been lost. It was not until December 10 that Governor Pritzker announced that Illinois National Guard medical staff were being sent to the LaSalle Veterans Home to assist with COVID-19 testing and screening at the facility.

Be Safe on the Roads During Cold Weather Months

Cold, winter weather has arrived, and the snow and wind that is common this time of year often makes travel difficult and dangerous. Please be safe in your Christmastime travels. You can use this link to access alerts about current road conditions that could make travel challenging.

Are Mike Madigan’s Days as Speaker Numbered?

Looking ahead to 2021 the question of whether Mike Madigan will have enough votes to retain his position as Speaker of the House remains unanswered. The 19 House Democrats who came forward at various points during 2020 to announce they will not support Madigan have reaffirmed their belief that it’s time for a new Speaker, and recently sent this letter to their colleagues. With 73 Democrats set to take office in January, if these 19 stand together, Mike Madigan is six votes shy of the 60 votes he needs to remain Speaker.

No one knows how the race for Speaker will end and who will ultimately garner the requisite number of votes required to assume the Speakership. This type of stalemate has occurred a few times in our state’s history, and during those times the body voted as many times as was necessary until one person eventually hit the 60 vote threshold. According to state law, the Secretary of State presides over the House of Representatives until a Speaker of the House is elected, but the body cannot conduct any official business until the Speaker’s seat is filled. It could be a long start for the members of the 102nd GA!

New Minimum Wage Rates Set to Take Effect on New Year’s Day

In accordance with legislation signed into law by JB Pritzker in 2019, the minimum wage in Illinois will increase to $11 an hour on January 1, 2021. This latest increase to $11/hour is part of a multi-year phase-in that will bring the minimum wage to $15/hour in 2025. The youth minimum wage rate will gradually rise to $13 an hour by 2025.

This increase will further devastate small business owners who are barely holding on due to restrictions put in place by the Governor that severely limit their ability to conduct business. This wage hike also affects tens of thousands of state workers and places tremendous pressures on an already out-of-balance budget.

Don’t Let Your Holiday go up in Smoke

The State Fire Marshall urges citizens to enjoy the holiday season but to take precautions to avoid fires.  Holiday decorations that include live Christmas trees with lights, paper decorations and candles may look pretty but they bring the potential for home fires and loss of life. 

Remember, a candle is an open flame, which means that it can easily ignite anything that can burn. These tips are from “Candle with Care” according to the National Fire Preventions Association:

  • Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle 
  • Keep matches and lighters up high and out of children’s reach or in a locked cabinet
  • Blow out all candles when you go to bed and consider setting an alarm on your phone as a reminder
  • Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and other areas where people may fall asleep
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn 
  • Use candle holders that are sturdy, and won’t tip over easily
  • Put candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface
  • Light candles carefully.  Keep your hair and any loose clothing away from the flame
  • Don’t burn a candle all the way down — put it out before it gets too close to the holder or container
  • Never use a candle around someone who is using an oxygen tank
  • Have flashlights and battery-powered lighting ready to use during a power outage

Holiday Office Hours

Between now and January 4, my district office in Naperville will be closed to walk-in visitors. My legislative assistant and I remain available, however, for appointments. If you would like to schedule an appointment during these two weeks, please call my office at (630) 696-4160 or send us an email at Wehrli@ilhousegop.org. We’ll be checking the phones and email regularly.

Counting Down to Christmas

The countdown to Christmas is well underway! You can use this NORAD Santa tracker on Christmas Eve if you would like to follow Santa’s trip around the globe.

And finally, as we end 2020 and prepare to usher in 2021, I hope you are able to spend quality time these next few weeks with family, friends and other loved ones. While this has been a difficult year for the State of Illinois on many fronts, we have very much for which we can be truly grateful.

Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to serve as your legislative voice during these unprecedented times, and from my family to yours, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a bright and prosperous new year!