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No ratings bump, but Fitch revises Illinois outlook from Negative to Stable

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* A small bit of good news. From a press release

Fitch Ratings has affirmed the state of Illinois’ Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘BBB’ and revised the Outlook to Stable from Negative.

Additionally, Fitch has affirmed the ‘BBB’ ratings on the state’s outstanding GO bonds, and the ‘A-’ ratings on the Build Illinois senior and junior obligation sales tax revenue bonds, which are linked to the state’s IDR based on state dedicated tax analysis.

The Rating Outlook for the above bonds has been revised to Stable. […]

The Outlook revision to Stable reflects key developments over the last three months for the state including an unanticipated revenue surge in April 2019 that positioned the state to resolve a sizable fiscal 2019 mid-year budget gap and enact an on-time fiscal 2020 budget. The positive April revenue surprise seen in Illinois, and other states, supported a significant increase in fiscal 2020 estimated revenues, easing the path to budget adoption and allowing the state to reduce (but not eliminate) reliance on non-recurring measures. The state now has a plausible and achievable 2020 budget plan, leaving the state better positioned from a fiscal perspective, and the potential for a rating downgrade in the near-term has receded. The recent gains, however, are somewhat tenuous and their sustainability hinges on the state’s actions over the next several years, particularly around the November 2020 ballot initiative on the graduated individual income tax.

Illinois’ ‘BBB’ IDR and GO ratings continue to reflect an ongoing pattern of weak operating performance and irresolute fiscal decision-making that has produced a credit position well below the level that the state’s broad economic base and substantial independent legal ability to control its budget would otherwise support. The state’s elevated long-term liability position remains a key credit challenge.

More at the link.

…Adding… Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes…

Illinois is already much stronger than we were a year ago, and it’s refreshing that Fitch is recognizing the good news and progress we’ve made so far. We know we have a long way to go, but we are committed to improving our long term fiscal stability and building an economy that works for everyone.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      


Pritzker orders staff probe of college aid scam

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* Click here for background if you need it…


* Center Square

Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants his administration to investigate reports of potential tuition assistance fraud in Illinois.

A report from ProPublica Illinois found wealthy parents used a legal process through the courts to transfer custody of their children to other guardians so the child can be eligible for tuition assistance like Illinois’ Monetary Assistance Program, which provides need-based grants to students that do not need to be repaid.

Asked about the report Wednesday in Chicago, Pritzker called it fraud.

“It’s terrible … There are more people applying for Monetary Assistance Program money than there are dollars that we could provide,” the governor said. “So if people are defrauding the system, these wealthy parents are literally committing fraud here, we need to go find them, root it out, and make sure those dollars go to the right people.”

Pritzker said the state has limited funding available for a limited number of qualified students “which we increased by 10,000 more students just this Spring.”

“We want it to go to the students who are most in need, not the people who are defrauding the system,” Pritzker said. […]

After the ProPublica report, Pritzker said he asked his staff to get to the bottom of it.

“So we need to look into it to make sure we are identifying people that are doing this, calling it out and making sure that we are preventing it from happening in the future,” he said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   50 Comments      


Accused of wage theft and minimum wage violations, former progressive candidate blames staff

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* NBC 5

Two dozen ex-employees of former Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia filed a wage theft grievance on Monday, accusing Enyia and her top staffers of owing them thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.

In a statement on the grievance, the group said Enyia’s campaign committee owed the 24 staffers a combined total of $56,825 in unpaid wages, overtime pay, minimum wage violations and unreimbursed expenses. […]

The statement did not identify the 24 staffers but said that they worked on Enyia’s field, communications, research and events staff and were initially promised repayment of campaign debt by March 15.

* Politico

Amara Enyia, the political phenom who energized the mayoral election earlier this year, is in the spotlight again. She’s being considered for the top job with the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus — but the move comes just as she’s being slapped with a lawsuit by two dozen former campaign staffers who say they haven’t been paid.

In a statement to Playbook, Enyia pushed back against the “unsettling” allegations.

She said that after losing in the first round of the mayor’s race, her staffers voted on whether to endorse either Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle, or stay neutral. They voted for the latter and as a result, Enyia’s campaign didn’t get any assistance to pay off campaign debt. “The team decided that the values of being able to hold leadership accountable outweighed the monetary compensation they were due,” Enyia said in the statement. “That voluntary team decision was key because it meant the team knew fundraising post-campaign would be a challenge.”

Enyia says there have been two fundraisers and that “partial payments” were made to her staff as “a show of good faith.”

Partial payments? Election day was February 26th. Her campaign finance disclosures show that four of her 24 employees were paid on February 27 and 28 and nobody else received any payroll distributions through June 30th. Maybe she paid some people this month.

* Odd…


Click here and search for “Oakley” and you’ll see the issue.

* This isn’t the first time she’s had money issues

The Tribune reported Enyia did not report to the IRS $21,000 paid to her by Chris Kennedy’s governor campaign, for which she worked as a consultant for several months. Enyia called it an oversight.

The Tribune also revealed that Enyia owed more than $73,000 in fines to the Illinois State Board of Elections for failing to file campaign fund disclosures after her failed 2015 mayoral bid, which was far less successful than the 2019 candidacy. [Kanye West] made a donation to pay that fine.

Weeks before the election, Enyia’s former campaign spokeswoman filed a lawsuit alleging the candidate refused to pay her $24,000 for four months of work.

* He’s not totally wrong here…


- Posted by Rich Miller   44 Comments      


“People are going to suffer and people are going to die”

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* This bill passed both chambers on unanimous roll calls

Hospital corporations in Illinois now have to jump through more administrative hoops before they will be allowed to close or downsize a health care facility.

A new law that took effect this month requires the owners of those facilities to obtain a permit from the state’s Health Facilities and Services Review Board before they can close a hospital, ambulatory surgical treatment center, nursing home or other health care center. It also limits the number of times they can apply to discontinue a category of services to just once every six months. […]

The bill was prompted by a controversy in Cook County earlier this year when California-based Pipeline Health announced plans to shut down Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, a hospital that serves a large number of low-income patients. […]

The new law took effect as soon as Pritzker signed it, but state officials were not immediately able to say whether it would affect the proposed Westlake closure.

* Another example

Warnings that “people will die” should a Blue Island hospital close punctuated a state panel’s hearing Wednesday in that city. […]

Dr. Annie Sinnott, who oversees MetroSouth’s emergency department, and fire chiefs from communities including Blue Island and Riverdale testified that ambulance transport times for critically ill patients will increase, possibly jeopardizing patient outcomes, should the hospital close.

“Real people with real problems are going to suffer,” said Sinnott, with other MetroSouth doctors standing with her. “People are going to suffer and people are going to die.” […]

[Dr. Henry Shin, the hospital’s medical chief of staff] blamed ownership changes in recent years, which have resulted in “services and staffing” being “gradually degraded” as a key factor in why people are seeking care at other area hospitals.

* But keeping the doors open will not be easy for some

Shrinking subsidies are pushing hospitals that serve the poorest communities in the Chicago area to the financial brink, and potentially threatening patient safety.

Hospitals are getting less money from various federal and state programs intended to offset the cost of treating poor and uninsured patients who can’t pay for care. At the same time, the number of people without health insurance is rising, due partly to the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and high insurance premiums. Even patients with insurance are struggling to cover out-of-pocket costs they incur under increasingly prevalent high-deductible insurance plans. […]

Cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share payments are set to take effect Oct. 1, but lawmakers are pushing for at least a two-year delay. An initial $4 billion reduction—to be followed by additional cuts—was mandated by the ACA under the assumption that Medicaid expansion and health insurance exchanges would reduce unpaid medical treatment. But uncompensated hospital care is rising again as court rulings and the Trump administration chip away at the landmark health care law. […]

Changes to the state’s hospital tax assessment program expected next year also worry some safety-net CEOs. They say they could lose tens of millions of dollars in funding if rates are more closely tied to patient volume, which has decreased across the board, or costly transformation efforts.

* Then there’s this problem in rural areas

“We have been without a physician position being filled for about a year now and it only had three candidates two of which surfaced lately,” says Administrator of Genesis Medical Center Aledo Ted Rogalski.

And patients can feel the difference and it presents a challenge to hospital administrators.

“We see our patients leaving our communities and going elsewhere because our wait time for our two and physicians can be up to 8 weeks at a time so those patients will travel elsewhere to seek care,” says Rogalski.

The shortage of rural healthcare providers is about four times that in metropolitan areas. […]

“It’s a negotiation between the manage care company (insurance) and the local entity. If you’re part of a larger organization you’re going to have more power at the bargaining table than if you’re just a standalone where that managing care company might say this is all we’re paying you, take it or we’ll send our patients elsewhere,” Rogalski adds.

* And the rich get richer

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is the only Illinois medical center to land among the 20 best hospitals nationwide, moving up three spots to No. 10, according to new rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

The academic medical center in Streeterville—which is nationally ranked in 12 specialties, including neurology and geriatrics—also topped the list of Illinois hospitals. Rounding out the top 5 in Illinois are University of Chicago Medical Center at No. 2, four-hospital NorthShore University HealthSystem and Rush University Medical Center, which tied for third, and Loyola University Medical Center at No. 5.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


New laws

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* Press release…

Governor JB Pritzker signed a new law Wednesday that expands access for Illinoisans involved in the criminal justice system to gain employment in the health care industry.

“Over 4 million Illinoisans have an arrest or conviction record – that includes over 40 percent of our working age population,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “This vicious cycle of poverty, crime and injustice – which disproportionately impacts communities of color – does a disservice to everyone involved, from affected families to employers to taxpayers. I’m so proud that this legislation will dismantle another part of the wall that blocks people with records from living a dignified life. Today, with this action, we’re showing the world that we are building an Illinois that works for everyone.”

Senate Bill 1965 creates a timelier and efficient health care waiver application process, expands the list of eligible organizations that can initiate a fingerprint-based background check and those than can request waivers to include workforce intermediaries and pro bono legal service organization, and allows people with disqualifying conditions to obtain waivers before receiving a job offer.

Prior to the passage of SB 1965, only health care employers who extended a conditional offer to an applicant could begin a fingerprint-based background check. The new law expedites that process to reduce the barriers to employment and occupational licensing within the state’s health care sector, which is projected to be the fastest growing industry in the next 10 years. SB 1965 takes effect immediately. […]

By 2026, the Safer Foundation estimates that more than 93,000 jobs will need to be filled in the industry, more than 18,000 healthcare technicians and more than 74,000 in health care support.

* WSIL TV

During a visit to SIU-E, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a new law expanding voting rights to both student members of the SIU Board of Trustees.

“Student voices matter. That, at its core, is why we’re amplifying the student voice on the Board of Trustees, offering each major campus equal say in board affairs no matter the date or time of year.” said Governor J.B. Pritzker. “I’m so proud to sign into law this legislation that will give both campus’ student trustees the right to vote on every issue that affects those they represent. Today’s announcement and the rejuvenation of SIU makes me truly excited for the future of Illinois.”

While the board is comprised of seven members appointed by the governor and two elected student trustees, only one student trustee has historically been given a vote on matters before the board. The campuses have rotated the vote in the past. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2020.

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      


The perils of lawyerly language

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* Sun-Times

He’s widely considered the most powerful politician in Illinois, but there’s no proof that House Speaker Mike Madigan uses his numerous roles to influence Democrats throughout the state.

Nor that he mixes government and politics.

At least that’s what lawyers for the head of the state Democratic Party argue in their latest federal court filing, seeking to knock down a lawsuit accusing Madigan of using his vast power to rig elections and punish enemies. Madigan’s lawyers produced the lengthy reply on Monday in their quest to resolve the lawsuit before it could head to a trial. […]

“Defendants dispute that Defendant Madigan uses the numerous roles he holds to influence Democrats at all levels of government,” Madigan’s lawyers wrote. “The evidence cited does not support this statement, nor does the record otherwise support a statement.”

His lawyers also wrote that they “object to the word ‘influence’ as unreasonably vague, and ambiguous.”

#Facepalm.

Who in their right mind would ever believe that statement from Madigan’s attorneys?

* But there is a very hyper-lawyerly explanation for this. If you read the joint defendant response, you’ll see it very specifically references this exchange in Madigan’s deposition

Q: We talked about your role as a 13th Ward Democratic Committeeman. We talked bit about your role as a Third Congressional District State Central Committeeman. We talked a little bit about the role that you’re in as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, and I just want to ask you about that in particular. … What other role or position do you play or occupy as the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois?

A: You work with any Illinois Democratic which is to get involved with the Democratic Party of Illinois. You work with different candidates and so today there you are Democratic candidates for State Offices, and we’re working with them to help them get elected. In addition, we work with candidates for the Illinois House, candidates for the Illinois Senate, candidates for the United States Congress.

So, the objection was over what the MJM lawyers claim was a mischaracterization of what Madigan said. Madigan, they say, didn’t actually admit to using “the numerous roles he holds to influence Democrats at all levels of government.” As Hannah Meisel noted today

In an additional 64-page filing Monday, Madigan’s attorneys also attempted to have multiple exhibits of evidence introduced by Gonzales’ campaign excluded from the case, a standard legal move.

Lawyers.

* Meisel also wrote about a different MJM filing today

Attorneys for House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) shot back at former primary challenger Jason Gonzales in a new court filing Monday, attempting to deconstruct Gonzales’ argument that Madigan allegedly putting up two “sham” candidates with Hispanic last names like Gonzales’ was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause to the 14th Amendment. […]

But Madigan’s lawyers pointed do a four-pronged legal test laid out in a 1973 case in front of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in which two Democratic state senators were accused of pulling a bait-and-switch after one of them was drawn out of his old district after the 1970 Census and 1971 redistricting process.

In that case, State Sen. Robert Cherry was challenged by Ronald Smith in the 1972 primary election, and received 53 percent of the vote. But Smith alleged that Cherry had never intended on running in the general election, as evidenced by his dropping out of the race in September of that year, and being replaced on the ballot by State Sen. Ben Palmer — the senator who had been drawn out of his own district. […]

Madigan’s attorneys claimed that even Gonzales himself had previously conceded in filings for the case that Madigan would have supported Barboza or Rodriguez if either had won the 2016 primary, meaning neither of them had been placed on the ballot to pull any sort of bait-and-switch scheme.

* Also from that filing and mentioned by Hannah

Plaintiff’s definition of a “sham” candidate—based on the time and other resources he or she devotes to the campaign—is both impossible to administer and would disproportionately subject less popular and well‐funded candidates to the threat of litigation

Heck, I’m so old I remember when a bona fide sham candidate named Michelle Chavez actually won a House race

Chavez, a Democrat, was elected in 2004, defeating incumbent Republican Frank Aguilar in what was thought to be a non-competitive race. She had run in the primary, allegedly at the behest of Aguilar, and won the Democratic nomination, after which she did very little campaigning, for the general election.

Chavez was celebrating at Rep. Aguilar’s victory party when she found out she beat him.

Oops.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


A possible work-around of the bluenoses

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* We’ve all seen the recent stories…

* Winnetka approves resolution halting cannabis sales until officials can examine local ordinances

* Lake Forest and Lake Bluff open to banning recreational marijuana sales

* Suburbs say no to recreational marijuana - Naperville, Libertyville and Bloomingdale vote themselves weed-free.

* Are suburbs going to allow sale of marijuana? So far more say ‘no’ or leaning no

* Northbrook board voices initial approval of first recreational cannabis business proposal

* But there won’t be that many dispensary licenses anyway

The new law would allow the state’s 55 existing medical marijuana dispensaries to open new retail shops on their current sites, and open a second site elsewhere — but only if local officials allow it.

In addition, applications for up to 75 new dispensaries will be due by Jan. 1, 2020, and are to be awarded by May 1, 2020, so entrepreneurs will want to know which areas will allow them to operate.

So, that’s 190 dispensaries in a state of 12.74 million people with 1,299 incorporated cities, towns and villages, 102 counties and 1,432 townships.

* More from today’s Tribune

In other states with legal pot, such as California and Colorado, where bigger cities tend to allow it, the majority of local governments ban pot sales. That results in large rural areas with no access to retail shops, which encourages a continued illegal market.

If the same thing happens in Illinois, [Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project] said, it would make a good argument for allowing home delivery, so people who have trouble travelling will have access.

Thoughts?

…Adding… Greg Hinz

The wife of one of the architects of Illinois’ new law legalizing recreational marijuana [Rep. Kelly Cassidy] has landed a big job with an Elmhurst-based cannabis company.

Revolution Florida, a sister company of Illinois-based marijuana grower and dispensary Revolution Enterprises, named Candace Gingrich vice president and head of business development for the firm’s newly expanded operations in the Sunshine State. […]

Cassidy said in a phone interview she sees no conflict of interest in her spouse accepting the post, and rejected the notion that the job appears like a reward for services rendered.

“I sought an ethics opinion and got it cleared” by the House ethics officer, Cassidy said. Beyond that, she added, Revolution “has gone above and beyond to make sure Candace had no role in Illinois, just to cover appearances.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   58 Comments      


Simmons leads $75 million remake of downtown Alton

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* SIUE graduate John Simmons has made a fortune as a trial attorney. He’s used some of that money to build things like the Simmons Cancer Institute on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Springfield. His law firm also has an employee foundation that contributes to several charitable causes.

But he’s now taken on a new project. He wants to remake downtown Alton, which has been empty and moribund for years. Gov. Pritzker went to Alton yesterday to highlight the ambitious effort

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday evening stood for a huddle of Alton city leaders and reporters gathered at the corner of Broadway and Henry, beaming with gratitude and excitement for the launch of AltonWorks, the $75M downtown revitalization investment plan courtesy of John and Jayne Simmons.

The governor was attending a ribbon cutting for the offices of AltonWorks, located at 601 E. Broadway. The Simmons’ have purchased more than 30 properties in the city’s downtown — many blighted — and hired a team of development experts to execute the largely unprecedented project. […]

Pritzker praised the plan’s focus on pedestrian-friendly landscapes and an emphasis on rooftop and riverfront development. An initial plan, first unveiled in May, indicated a total rebirth of downtown Alton as a “rooftop city” with picturesque views over the Mississippi for both residential and business spaces. Included are renovations of long-abandoned landmarks like the Grand Theater and Stratford Hotel buildings. The Simmons’ have snatched up nearly any property available in Alton’s downtown corridor. John Simmons earned much of the family’s wealth as an Alton-based trial attorney. […]

Jayne Simmons on Tuesday told The Telegraph that the AltonWorks project is early in Stage 1 as the team drafts a detailed master plan. Employees [20 so far] have been visible around downtown in recent weeks examining each property and doing maintenance as part of that process.

“We purchased over 30 properties, and some of them have office spaces, some have tenants, and a lot of them are empty, so we have to maintain those, and take care of them” she said. “We don’t want any of them continue to deteriorate.”

* More

The effort is projected to create millions of dollars in investment into Alton through private investors, joint venture partners, historic tax credits, and other state funding sources for projects including public infrastructure, transit connectivity, workforce development, business attraction and relocation, and broadband infrastructure.

“We hope Alton will serve as a process ‘proof of concept’ for replicable and scalable demonstration of our commitment to downstate revitalization,” the company’s mission statement says.

“I want to thank John and Jayne Simmons for sharing their vision,” Pritzker said. “I very much want to be part of that vision. This is something we can do all across Southern and Central Illinois.

“Frankly, we should be doing this everywhere.”

I’ve been to that town several times and always thought it was a diamond in the rough. Hopefully, this will work.

- Posted by Rich Miller   36 Comments      


Caption contest!

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

* Facebook

- Posted by Rich Miller   64 Comments      


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