|Question of the day
Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021 - Posted by Rich Miller
State Rep. Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport), pointing to a couple of all-night sessions in 2021, is sponsoring a bill to, except when legislative leaders declare an emergency, restrict floor votes to the hours between 6 a.m. and midnight.
“I just don’t think the average citizen believes is appropriate to have a committee meeting at one in the morning and pass a $43 billion (budget) bill, say, at three in the morning,” Chesney said.
Chesney says this is intentional; an annual tactic by supermajority Democrats to tire everyone out and pass big bills when neither the public nor the media are awake and paying attention.
* The Question: Good idea or not? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please…
* Illinois Policy Institute, April of 2020…
Two major credit ratings agencies, Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service, have dropped Illinois’ credit outlook to “negative” from “stable” on expectations that economic fallout from COVID-19 will strain state budgets.
Both currently rank Illinois bonds just one notch above non-investment grade debt, also known as “junk” status, while the third major agency, Fitch Ratings, puts Illinois slightly higher at two grades above junk. The Prairie State has the lowest rating among states across all three agencies.
* October 8, 2020…
A public finance watchdog said the latest report on Illinois’ finances from Fitch Ratings is evidence the state is on the verge of having a junk credit rating.
Fitch gave $850 million of borrowing the state issued a BBB- rating. Some of that borrowing is for the state’s pension buyout program, the rest is for capital projects.
Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski said the pension buyout program is a distraction and not providing real savings. He said the Fitch report shows state’s politicians are running out of options and are costing taxpayers more by borrowing more money.
* House Republican Leader Jim Durkin in 2019…
S&P called the Pritzker budget “dubious” and said enacting it could ”weaken the state’s credit trajectory,” which is already at a junk-bond-skirting BBB- in the S&P credit-rating table. Fitch Ratings explicitly warned Illinois that enactment of the Pritzker budget will place the state in risk of a credit downgrade.
A third major credit-rating office, Moody’s Investors Service, has also ranked the State of Illinois only one notch above junk-bond level.
The Illinois Republican Party also warned in 2019 that Gov. Pritzker could drive the state into junk bond territory.
* The ILGOP has often used downgrades to whack Democrats. A sampling…
* And, of course, there’s the Tribune editorial board…
And now that Illinois has earned its first credit rating upgrade in 21 years? Nothing. Zip. Nada. Nix, nein Frankenstein, as we used to say in Germany.
It’s not that I expected any joyous announcements, but I did expect something. Must take awhile to reprogram their talking points software. Or maybe their unified system was hit with a ransomware attack.
…Adding… Eleni Demertzis with the HGOPs…
The Democrats’ ransomware attack upon the US Treasury was successful, and the state has been able to pass a budget with the bailout cash. We are all old enough to remember a time when Governor Pritzker told us a graduated income tax was needed to save our state’s finances. Seems like he might still have retrograde amnesia.
The federal aid to the state was not used to balance the budget. And the governor said accurately yesterday that the state’s structural deficit remains, although it was pared back with $655 million in corporate loophole closures.
…Adding… For those either deliberately or ignorantly unclear on the concept in comments, what I meant was that I expected responses like this one from IPI after a 2013 California upgrade…
California’s fake reforms yield credit upgrade
I mean, at least give us a little grumpiness or something. Instead, crickets. By the way, those “fake reforms” led directly to California’s very real budget surplus of $80 billion today.
* Background is here if you need it. WBEZ…
Lawmakers and advocates are calling for outside oversight of the Illinois Department of Corrections after a WBEZ investigation revealed a pattern of alleged beatings by guards in an area of Western Illinois Correctional Center where there was no video camera coverage.
The investigation documented nine people who separately accused a group of officers of beating them in the same area. Prison records show staff were aware of a blind spot that lacked cameras and of repeated accusations of violence, but the violence persisted until guards allegedly beat a prisoner named Larry Earvin to death in that same location. Federal prosecutors have charged three guards for the beating.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has declined multiple requests to comment on WBEZ’s investigation or the repeated allegations of abuse. Pritzker’s silence continues a pattern in which his director of prisons has refused to do an interview about staff abuse and accountability despite requests over two-and-a-half years.
State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray said she was “horrified” by WBEZ’s findings. “The fact that somebody had to die before that was adequately taken care of, I think is atrocious,” Stava-Murray said. […]
“It’s not just how many cameras are there and where are they placed. It’s who’s reviewing the footage? How often is the footage being reviewed? Is it made publicly available? Is it being shared? Is it being reported?” Jennifer Vollen-Katz [the executive director of the John Howard Association] said.
* So, I checked in with Jordan Abudayyeh…
Protecting the safety of staff and individuals sentenced to IDOC custody is the highest priority of this administration. Under the leadership of Acting Director Rob Jeffreys, we have increased security measures statewide. These measures include, but are not limited to:
• The installation of 79 new cameras at Western Illinois Correctional Center over the last year.
• The institution of a unit management system at several facilities, including Western Illinois, to create greater contact between counselors, security staff, and people in custody. This approach increases opportunities for communication and improves the Department’s responsiveness to the concerns of incarcerated people.
• The hiring of an attorney to serve as Chief Inspector. Chief Latoya Hughes is charged with providing oversight of the statewide grievance system and identifying needed reforms to ensure the process is fair, consistent, and responds to the needs of the incarcerated population.
*** UPDATE 1 *** I missed this one earlier in the week. Holy moly…
Three Choate Mental Health administrators have been indicted on felony charges related to their work at the state-run facility. […]
All are accused of violating the Department of Human Services investigating protocol, his office stated in a news release.
Tripp alleges these violations started a chain of events that impeded an active investigation by Illinois State Police-Division of Internal Investigation of a staff member battering an individual served at the facility. Felony charges are pending in this case. […]
The indictments come after a string of other arrests last year tied to the institution. In all, eight current or former employees were arrested on charges connected to their employment at Choate.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Rep. Deb Conroy…
Rich, the Choate situation is a huge red flag to our state that we must prioritize mental Heath and SUD. This is absolutely unacceptable that the very inadequate facilities we do have are not safe. It is long overdue, but today I submitted language to require Illinois to have a Mental Health and SUD Czar. We are at a crossroad of crisis and opportunity with a moral responsibility to act.
…Adding… Sen. Fowler…
State Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) issued the following statement regarding the indictment charges:
“The abuse that came to light in 2018 at the Choate Mental Health facility was disturbing. To know that staff tasked with the care of some of the most vulnerable in our state were capable of such mistreatment was unsettling. Now we have three administrators, who should have worked to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the residents within this state-run facility and held their staff accountable for their actions, accused of misconduct and violating proper investigative protocol in regards to those abuse allegations. It is deplorable.
“As administrators, these individuals had a responsibility to protect those entrusted with their care. If it is proven that these officials ignored their duty and acted in any way to prevent justice for the residents harmed within Choate, they should be held accountable for their actions.
“Under the circumstance of the situation and with the seriousness of the charges, I urge the Administration to place all three individuals on administrative leave immediately.”
On June 28th, the Union County State’s Attorney announced that Bryant T. Davis, Teresa A. Smith and Gary K. Goins have all been charged with official misconduct, a Class 3 felony.
*** UPDATE 3 *** Sen. Bryant…
Three Choate Mental Health administrators are actively employed with the Illinois Department of Human Services despite being recently indicted on felony charges stemming from the abuse accusations of 2018 at the state-operated developmental center in Anna.
State Senator Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro), who serves as the Minority Spokesperson of the Senate Behavioral and Mental Health Committee, issued the following statement:
“It is unconscionable that the individuals charged with covering up and interfering with an investigation into the abuse of residents are continuing to actively work and have access to the staff and facility—the very facility in which they failed to properly protect the vulnerable residents under their care. It’s simply inexcusable.
“These individuals must immediately be put on administrative leave until these allegations are thoroughly investigated.
“As we’ve seen with the recent tragedy at the LaSalle Veterans Home, failure to take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure the safety of residents and our most vulnerable have serious consequences.”
On June 28th, the Union County State’s Attorney announced that Bryant T. Davis, Teresa A. Smith and Gary K. Goins have all been charged with official misconduct, a Class 3 felony.
* Assistant House Majority Leader Delia Ramirez has withdrawn her motion to reconsider the vote on HB2908, the Chicago elected school board bill.
Ramirez had put a hold on the bill to allow Mayor Lori Lightfoot a chance to make her case for what to include in the coming trailer bill. Ramirez and Lightfoot met last week to discuss the issue, but Ramirez has said all along that she wanted the bill on the governor’s desk by the end of June.
This post may be updated.
*** UPDATE *** From Leader Ramirez…
State Representative Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, has lifted her motion to reconsider HB 2908. The legislation that creates a path to a fully-elected school board for Chicago Public Schools will now be sent to the governor’s desk. This action comes after meeting with stakeholders to begin discussing outstanding issues that may be addressed in trailer legislation during the fall veto session.
“Parents should have a voice in their children’s education and now Chicago will be in line with the rest of Illinois on this issue. Returning this right to Chicago parents, the overwhelming majority of whom support this measure, is an honor. Their participation in this process was invaluable and shows that they will be active participants in the electoral process which begins in 2024.
“I appreciate the support I’ve received from my fellow legislators, especially state Senator Martwick, who shepherded this measure through the state Senate. As a long time supporter of an elected school board, it is my hope that Gov. Pritzker will sign this measure into law expeditiously.”
…Adding… Apparently, it’s Lift the Brick Day in Illinois…
That was also expected.
* Press release…
The Illinois Supreme Court today issued two new orders which will resume statutory time restrictions for speedy trials on October 1 and relax social distancing requirements in courthouses. Both orders are effective immediately.
“It is important to note that our courts remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of court proceedings have taken place via both in-person and virtual hearings,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said. “However, conducting criminal jury trials has been very difficult. These two orders will help our courts prepare for a return to a full slate of jury trials.”
M.R. 30370, In re: Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Social Distancing, states that “Chief Circuit Judges of the State are permitted to relax or eliminate social distancing requirements,” and notes that the decision to do so should be based on local conditions.
M.R. 30370, Illinois Courts Response to COVID-19 Emergency/Speedy Trial, states that statutory time restrictions will no longer be tolled and that “all days on and following October 1, 2021, shall be included in speedy trial computations contained in section 103-5 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 and section 5-601 of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act”. This provides the chief circuit judges at least 90 days to prepare for the tolling to be lifted.
The order also states the days prior to March 20, 2020, and April 3, 2020, when the Court put out orders tolling the statutory time restrictions for section 103-5 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 and section 5-601 of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, will be included in speedy trial computations.
The orders are here.
* Context from a few days ago…
(T)he court’s suspension of speedy trial rules has contributed to a growing backlog in the Cook County criminal court, leaving thousands of mostly Black and Latinx people locked in the Cook County Jail and on electronic monitoring for more than a year awaiting trial. Experts worry that the backlog will worsen throughout the summer, when shootings and other types of violent crimes normally increase.
Defense attorneys who spoke with Injustice Watch said the justices have to do a better job balancing public health needs with defendants’ rights to a speedy trial.
“It is our contention that not enough of these [backlogged] cases have resolved, and much of that has to do with the fact that there are really no speedy trial rights available,” said Cook County Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr. “The need to resolve these cases is great for our clients. The mental trauma, anxiety, anticipation is overwhelming.”
* Lynn Sweet…
Illinois GOP Reps. Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger — both being mentioned as potential 2022 governor candidates — joined with Democrats on Tuesday to approve a measure to remove statues of Confederate leaders from the U.S. Capitol.
The move would, among other things, take down a bust of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who in 1857 authored the Supreme Court Dred Scott decision that said people of African descent brought to the U.S. were not citizens. The plan is to install a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice, in his place.
The measure passed the House on a 285 to 120 roll call. A similar piece of legislation was advanced last by the Democratic-controlled House only to stall in what then was a GOP-run Senate. Now the Democrats run the Senate.
Kinzinger and Davis were among the 67 Republicans joining Democrats in backing the measure. Freshman Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., did not vote.
Rep. Miller did vote “No” on ordering the previous question before she took a walk on the actual vote.
* Rachel Hinton…
Democratic Illinois secretary of state candidate Alexi Giannoulias added another union to his growing list of supporters, garnering the endorsement of the Laborers’ International Union of North America a little less than a year before the June primary.
That endorsement spans the union’s 15 locals and nearly 23,000 members as part of the labor organization’s Cook County base as well as an additional 26 local chapters and 17,000 members downstate.
A spokeswoman for Giannoulias’ campaign said employees from 16 different unions, including the laborers, work in the secretary of state’s office.
* I told subscribers about this development last week. Notice that Rep. Mazzochi doesn’t say what office she is running for…
Illinois Democrats targeted Republican state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi for termination with extreme prejudice — in other words, political oblivion.
But the Elmhurst Republican has decided she won’t retire quietly to the sidelines. In fact, once she makes up her mind which direction she’ll go, Mazzochi said she plans to fight hard to maintain her place in the political arena.
“I certainly will be a candidate in the 2022 elections,” said Mazzochi, an Illinois House member since 2018. […]
Regardless of what happens, however, Mazzochi is running — for something. Although she recently contributed $150,000 to her campaign fund, Mazzochi said she doesn’t have “an established timeline” to make a decision on how or where to proceed because the situation is so fluid.
…Adding… Young Democrats of Illinois…
On June 26th, with a keynote from Dr. Robin Kelly the Young Democrats of Illinois held their convention to elect the new Executive Board. Quinne Welter will succeed Arielle Maffei as President, Saghi Sandra Hosseini will step in as the Executive Vice President with Dan Asonye, 1st Vice President, Bobby Mannis, 2nd Vice President, and Akanksha Balekai, 3rd Vice President. Followed by Marla Johnson as Secretary, Anthony Vega as Treasurer, and Izzy Dobbel and Thomas Maillard as the National Committeepeople. They will expand on the groundwork laid by the previous Executive Board, grow the organization, and represent Illinois at the Young Democrats of America convention in August.
* I haven’t talked much about the buyouts at the Tribune, but that paper’s editorial page continues to have an outsized influence on Illinois politics (deserved or otherwise) and there are some major changes afoot. Robert Feder…
The buyouts may be over but the bleeding hasn’t stopped for the Chicago Tribune. On Tuesday Kristen McQueary, editor of the Tribune’s editorial page, announced that she’s quitting too. “After nine years on the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board and page editor since March of last year, Friday will be my last day at the paper,” McQueary tweeted. “I applied for the buyout, but my application was not accepted. I’ll be pursuing other opportunities. Stay tuned!” It’s not known why McQueary’s buyout bid was rejected but her departure leaves the Tribune minus another stellar talent. “To be sure, she and I differ on quite a few issues, but I have no doubt of her integrity and her heart,” newly departed Tribune columnist Eric Zorn said of McQueary. “She ran the Edit Board with grace, energy and humor during a very difficult year and has the affection and appreciation of the liberals, the moderates and the conservatives whom she supervised.” McQueary joined the Tribune in 2012 from Chicago Public Media and the Chicago News Cooperative. The Rockford native and graduate of Illinois State University and the University of Illinois at Springfield previously worked for the Daily Southtown and Peoria Journal Star.
With much of the Chicago Tribune newsroom already being gutted under the new management of Alden Global Capital, it’s all hands on deck these days. In a surprise plot twist, Chris Jones, who’s been the Tribune’s esteemed theater critic for 20 years, is the favorite to replace McQueary as editorial page editor, sources say. It’s hard to imagine Jones bowing out as Chicago’s preeminent drama critic just when theaters are opening again. But it’s been hard to imagine a lot these days. Come to think of it, other than making money and wrecking newspapers, does Alden Global Capital even have an editorial philosophy?
* And Jones did, indeed, get the gig…
In announcing Jones’s appointment, effective July 12, Par Ridder, general manager of Chicago Tribune Media Group, wrote in an internal email: “As Chicago’s pre-eminent culture critic, he has a deep understanding of the city, his home for 30 years, and has built a reputation as frank, fair-minded and scrupulously accurate. Can there be more important attributes for an editorial page editor?
“Chris is committed to upholding the Tribune’s leading citizen status, and its statement of principles, which include the newspaper’s commitment ‘to inform and lead public opinion, to foster commerce and industry, and to furnish that vital check upon government which no constitution can.’”
Jones, 57, joined the Tribune full-time in 2002. A native of Manchester, England, he was educated at University of Hull and The Ohio State University and taught at Northern Illinois University and DePaul University. He also wrote about theater for Variety.
“Today, the Tribune announced me as the new editorial page editor, meaning that I will be in working with a variety of opinion columns and joining an editorial board that is smaller than in the past. But, I hope, mighty in the city,” Jones wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
“I’m still the theater critic, which is important to me and the paper, and I will review the major shows as I have for the past 20 years. It is my hope that other, diverse, freelance voices will also join our theater coverage, going forward. While these are very challenging times at the paper, there remains a strong commitment to the Chicago theater.”
Personal attacks will be deleted.
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|Our sorry state
Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021 - Posted by Rich Miller
* This is a very well-written piece by Joe Mahr at the Tribune. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read the whole thing…
Records obtained by the Tribune show the flood of fraud happened after IDES failed to follow federal recommendations to adopt free fraud-fighting tools that were made available in 2019. Only recently did the agency begin using those tools. A separate process to help identify problematic claims also didn’t become fully functional until February, nearly a year into the pandemic.
At the same time, Illinois has not joined some other states in implementing safeguards meant to detect and stop sketchy claims at the door, before they are accepted into an overburdened system. Though critics say these methods can cause problems by interfering with legitimate claims, some officials in other states credit them with significantly decreasing fraud.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security has yet to report how much money it believes was siphoned away. But if the amount tracks with national estimates, it could involve billions of dollars.
In Illinois, the fraud became so rampant last year that it overwhelmed IDES as its top leadership was undergoing a transition. Five months into her new job as IDES’ top administrator, Kristin Richards lamented to her staff in a December email that she was “stunned by fraudsters’ tenacity.”
|Moody’s upgrade roundup
Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021 - Posted by Rich Miller
* More background is here if you need it. Bond Buyer…
Illinois won a one-notch upgrade Tuesday from Moody’s Investors Service, action that turns the rating tide for a state stung by more than a decade of downgrades that left it one cut away from a speculative grade.
Moody’s moved its general obligation and Build Illinois sales tax-backed ratings up one level to Baa2 from Baa3. It continues to assign a stable outlook.
Illinois’ management through the COVID-19 pandemic and prudent actions with its rosier revenue projections and $8.1 billion in new federal relief from the American Rescue Plan Act drew Moody’s praise.
“Just a little over six months ago, there was a raging debate over whether Illinois would be able to hold onto its investment grade rating,” Ty Schoback, a senior municipal research analyst for Columbia Threadneedle Investments, which owns Illinois debt as part of $17 billion in muni assets, said in an interview.
“It’s truly just a night and day situation and outlook for the state,” Schoback said. “To Illinois’s credit, despite their reputation and their history with fiscal decisions, they’ve made highly prudent choices.”
Illinois finances have been buoyed by the economic recovery as revenue exceeds expectations and the state receives $8.1 billion in aid from President Joe Biden’s rescue plan. The state is paying back the outstanding portion of the $3.2 billion it borrowed from the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facility last year with higher-than-anticipated tax collections. The state has cut its unpaid bills to less than $3 billion. That backlog had reached more than $16 billion in 2017 during the state’s budget impasse.
“They need to just not mess it up,” Schoback said. “They need to maintain their discipline on pensions, moving to structural balance.”
* NPR Illinois…
Moody’s said Tuesday it upgraded Illinois’ bond status due to “material improvement in the state’s finances,” specifically the $42 billion budget Democrats pushed through the legislature last month. The agency said the budget repays emergency federal borrowing the state did in the depths of COVID last year and will keep the state’s bill backlog “in check” without dipping too far into the $8 billion in federal funds coming to Illinois from the American Rescue Plan.
Moody’s also gave the budget credit for increasing contributions to the state’s five pension systems, though it acknowledged Illinois’ pension debt — $144 billion in unfunded liabilities at last calculation — is “unusually large” and poses a long-term challenge to the state and could “exert growing pressure” on the state as “federal support dissipates,” barring new revenues or reductions in spending, the analysis said.
Still, Democrats were in a self-congratulatory mood Tuesday. In a statement, Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) obliquely referred to the budget impasse and those who cheered Rauner on during the standoff with Democrats from 2015 to 2017.
“Stability and responsibility produce results,” Harmon saiid. “You don’t need to ruin people’s lives to have sound fiscal policies and positive outcomes.”
Laurence Msall, the president of the Civic Federation, said the governor deserves credit, but the state is not yet out of the woods.
“From a fiscal analysis standpoint, this is positive news — it’s reflective of a more conservative budget approach that he has taken in the last year,” Msall told the Sun-Times. “It’s a step in the right direction, but much heavier lifting, and much harder work is needed, if we’re going to move from being barely investment grade to an A-rated credit or ideally a double A or triple A, which 13 other states are.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the change a “major milestone.”
“I say with full certainty, Illinois’ fiscal situation is heading in the right direction for the first time in the 21st century,” the Democrat said. […]
The state’s general obligation rating — now Baa2, up from Baa3 — is still relatively low, but moving up a notch means Illinois should save money when it goes to the bond market; Pritzker estimated those savings will be worth tens of millions of dollars.
The upgrade will also give Pritzker something to boast about as he’s expected to soon begin campaigning for another term. Pritzker has thus far evaded saying whether he’ll run again, but with the June 28, 2022 primary now a year away, decision time should come soon.
While the upgrade from Moody’s is welcome news, it only returns the state’s rating to where it was before the last of three downgrades during the tumultuous tenure of Pritzker’s predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
* And sour grapes in Center Square Land…
Bill Bergman, director of research for Truth in Accounting, said credit ratings can be misleading.
“The rating has turned positive for some reason, the outlook anyway, which doesn’t mean much since they are borderline junk anyway in Illinois,” he said.
Womp womp. Bergman was wrong about state spending just a few days ago in the same outlet.
* Capitol News Illinois…
The Illinois economy showed strong signs of recovery during the first quarter of 2021 as businesses continued to reopen from the pandemic and direct government payments flowed to businesses and individual consumers.
Data released last week from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the state’s economy grew at an annual rate of 6.4 percent during the quarter as its gross domestic product – the market value of all goods and services produced by labor and property – approached its pre-pandemic level.
That growth rate was on par with the rest of the nation and slightly ahead of the pace set by most of Illinois’ surrounding states. But the state’s total GDP, at just under $770 billion annually, remained below where it was two years earlier, before the pandemic. […]
The most improved sectors of the Illinois economy were also among the hardest-hit by the pandemic – arts, entertainment and recreation, which grew at a 38.6 percent annual rate, followed by accommodation and food services, which grew at an 18.4 percent pace.
Durable goods manufacturing also showed strong improvement with a 13 percent growth rate, as did the information sector, which includes the media, which grew at a 14 percent rate.
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