Good Thursday morning, Illinois. I will be spending a good part of the day on Zoom and I am really hoping a cat pops up.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered his third budget address Wednesday, offering a $41.6 billion proposal that doesn’t raise taxes but calls for flat spending and department cuts. It’s a reality check for Illinois residents hoping to turn a page on the pandemic that’s ravaged the state.
The price paid to save lives from Covid-19 “has been enormous,” Pritzker said, acknowledging the personal toll on families and businesses.
Republicans immediately pounced, criticizing the plan for relying on unrestricted federal aid to help fund state health departments and pay off debt. Pritzker’s plan does not include any additional stimulus money from the Biden administration.
Pritzker’s budget will now be dissected by the Democratic-led General Assembly, where lawmakers will have their way with the numbers.
What really sticks in the craw of Republicans is Pritzker’s proposal to pull back on tax loopholes for businesses, which the governor’s offices says would create $1.5 billion in new revenue. They see it as Pritzker seeking vengeance on business groups who opposed the graduated income tax measure that failed in November.
“None of these items are loopholes. They are incentives to grow jobs and educate children,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said in his budget rebuttal.
The criticism rings hollow, Pritzker said, because Republicans haven’t offered any budgeting alternatives.
The governor, who for two years stressed the importance of bipartisanship, on Wednesday directed his anger at those “on the far right” who have called for cuts to unemployment programs and health insurance coverage and who fought “unrelentingly to eliminate any state or federal funds designed to make health care more accessible, equitable and fair.”
They are the same folks who “encouraged businesses to defy health guidelines, spread conspiracy theories about Covid deaths, and fought mask guidelines tooth and nail,” Pritzker said in his address.
“In essence, they eliminated the fire department, burnt down the house, and poured gas on the flames — and now they’re asking why we’re not doing more to prevent fires,” he said. “In a normal year, I might have more patience for their hypocrisy. But this is not a normal year.”
Pritzker wasn’t just scolding about the budget, he was laying the foundation for his 2022 re-election campaign.
His message focused on accomplishments — leading the ship of state through troubled waters (Illinois is first among the six largest states in vaccine distribution) — and looking to what’s next. Those are campaign themes if you’ve ever heard ‘em.
— REAX from Pritzker’s budget proposal, by WTTW’s Amanda Vinicky (with video)
— 5 takeaways from Pritzker’s budget, by Tribune’s Jenny Whidden
— Pritzker focused first on impact of the pandemic: The governor called for $60 million in funding to the Department of Employment Security to help meet the “unprecedented demand” the pandemic has created, reports Sun-Times’ Rachel Hinton and Andrew Sullender.
— Proposed budget keeps school funding flat for a second year: “The state’s education budget for kindergarten to 12th grade will remain stagnant at almost $9 billion with no increase to the evidence-based funding formula,” reports Chalkbeat Samantha Smylie.
— Column: Pritzker shifts from bold to balance in budget — after voters shifted gears on him, writes Sun-Times’ Mark Brown
STATUE REVIEW: Six months after she ordered two statues of Christopher Columbus temporarily removed, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called for a public process to review 41 figures, plaques and works of art — including a few of Abraham Lincoln.
The 41 items in question were singled out after a commission reviewed 500 public monuments in Chicago as part of a “a racial healing and historical reckoning project.”
Reasons for making the review list include “promoting narratives of white supremacy; presenting an inaccurate or demeaning portrayal of Native Americans; celebrating people with connections to slavery, genocide or racist acts; or presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history,” reports Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman.
The Tribune’s John Byrne adds that even before the unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, “cities around the country were grappling with controversies over monuments that celebrate Columbus, Confederate leaders and other historical figures. Some have been marked with graffiti. Others have been pulled down.”
Activists want public art to better represent the diversity of American life — a goal Lightfoot hopes to see accomplished. The Chicago Monuments Project is accepting public comments through April 1.
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No official public events.
At the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center in Belleville at 12:30 p.m. to tour a state-supported mass vaccination site
In Calumet City at 10 a.m. for the launch of the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program (C-PACE)
The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported 24 new deaths and 1,795 new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus. That’s a total of 20,057 fatalities and 1,166,717 cases in Illinois. The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total tests from Feb. 10 through 16 is 2.8 percent. Chicago’s positivity rate is at 3.6 percent.
— Black Chicagoans struggle to get access to vaccine: “For Black Chicagoans, finding medical care was difficult well before Covid-19 struck. Many hospitals in Black communities are starved for resources, and some residents live in what are essentially pharmacy deserts. Now that it’s time to start getting vaccines, people are finding they need computer skills and time to navigate multiple pharmacy websites to book an appointment. That can be hard for elderly residents and hourly workers. And for those who don’t have health insurance, or have Medicaid insurance for low-income and disabled residents, the path to a shot is even harder,” by WBEZ’s Kristen Schorsch.
— A third of troops turning down vaccine, Pentagon officials say: “Pentagon officials have said the vaccine will initially be voluntary because it does not have full FDA approval yet, though leaders have encouraged personnel to get vaccinated,” by POLITICO’s Connor O’Brien.
— Chicago forges $3.5M partnership with Rush to help track coronavirus variants: “Genomic testing capacity is vital to help the city determine whether any of the Covid-19 variants detected around the world — in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Japan or elsewhere — are spreading in Chicago, officials said,” by Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman.
— How Covid-19 could make Americans healthier, by POLITICO’s Joanne Kenen. The story is part of Recovery Lab, a new series from POLITICO highlighting the best ideas emerging from cities and states around the country aimed at getting the nation back on its feet.
— The Lightfoot administration is taking heat for spending $281.5 million in federal Covid-19 relief money on the Chicago Police Department, according to the Tribune’s John Byrne. “We asked for assurances they wouldn’t spend it all on police,” Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said Wednesday. “That’s the last thing people wanted, to infuse hundreds of millions more dollars into the Police Department right now.” Aldermen learned of the funding for police while considering Lightfoot’s request to transfer about $65 million in unspent federal Covid-19 money into the 2021 budget. Byrne adds: "Speaking to aldermen in June, city Budget Director Susie Park said no relief money had yet been spent on police funding. But the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday said specific coronavirus-related police costs between March and May were later identified for federal reimbursement once coronavirus relief money started arriving, for things such as police performing wellness checks on residents, airport security when travelers had to be screened for COVID-19, security at the McCormick Place coronavirus field hospital and security at virus testing sites."
— Lightfoot administration asks EPA for guidance on metal-shredder permit: “The city wants the federal agency to give details into its inquiry into General Iron’s move to the Southeast Side,” by Sun-Times’ Brett Chase.
— 73.2 percent of the U.S. is covered by snow with 21 inches at O’Hare — both levels not seen since 2011, reports Tribune’s Kori Rumore
— The new power 30: Chicago mag is out with a new power ranking list that includes notable names in government. No. 1 and 4 on the list are Drs. Ngozi Ezike and Allison Arwady, the health department chiefs for the state of Illinois and city of Chicago, respectively. No. 2 is House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. And No. 24 is Antonio Romanucci, the Chicago attorney representing the family of George Floyd. Other familiar names: Congresswoman Marie Newman, Chicago Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) and Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. Deborah D. Douglas reports.
— Have you seen these 51 women? “If there wasn’t a serial killer who picked off dozens of victims without detection for decades, then the city was broken in a way that gave off the illusion of one,” by Ben Austen in the Reader.
— Deported U.S. veteran from Chicago makes bittersweet return home to be buried: “Javier Ramirez, a Vietnam-era U.S. military veteran, was deported to his native Mexico almost 20 years ago. He was caught in the middle of a 1996 immigration law that permanently separated him from his family in Chicago. He returned but in a casket,” by WBEZ’s María Inés Zamudio.
— Kids Off The Block to give 1K doorbell cameras to South Side residents: The Roseland nonprofit is known for its work helping youths and families with food, clothing or refuge from the streets, writes Sun-Times’ Maudlyne Ihejirika.
— Former judge once caught on camera leaving child in court lockup eyes return to bench: “Jackie Portman-Brown was subsequently reassigned out of her felony courtroom, and in the November election, voters denied her retention bid by a narrow margin. But this year, she applied for an associate judgeship, a position that is elected by judges and not Cook County voters,” by Tribune’s Megan Crepeau.
— DuPage health officials decline to join state Covid-19 vaccine expansion to people with underlying conditions: “Citing low projected shipments of vaccine in the coming weeks, health officials said they would instead primarily focus on administering second doses and limited first doses for those already eligible,” by Aurora Beacon-News’ Sarah Freishtat.
DNA linked Tennessee man to 1992 Gary murders, charges allege: “Victor Lofton, 56, of Humboldt, Tennessee, was arrested Feb. 5 in the July 15, 1992 deaths of Felicia Howard, 21, and her daughter D’nisha Howard, 4,” by Tribune’s Meredith Colias-Pete.
Metra to buy low-emission locomotives in effort to go green: “The plan includes the commuter rail agency’s first zero-emission, electric-powered switch engine,” by Sun-Times’ Isabelle Sarraf.
— Gene Koprowski, a former official at the Heartland Institute think tank, has pulled the plug on his campaign to run against Rep. Adam Kinzinger in the 16th District GOP primary. Koprowski was first to jump in after Kinzinger voted to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this month. Internet entrepreneur Jack Lombardi and Machesney Park resident Teresa Marie Pfaff are also running in the IL-16 GOP primary.
— Ahead of the 2022 election, the Illinois Republican Party has launched what it’s calling the “Fire Pritzker” campaign. “The people of Illinois are saying enough is enough. No more tax hikes, unbalanced budgets, and radical leftist agendas – and no more unaccountable rule by one man shutting down our economy and destroying Illinois’ future,” state GOP Chairman Don Tracy said in his statement about the campaign.
— Panel approves ‘culturally responsive’ teaching standards: The rules “call on colleges and universities in the state to change the way prospective teachers and administrators are trained in order to make them more accommodating to diverse students. On a party-line vote, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, declined to block the new ‘Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards’ from going into effect, despite objections by Republicans who argued the rules would ultimately require licensed teachers and administrators to adhere to a particular political ideology,” reports Capitol News’ Peter Hancock.
— A health care nonprofit that advocates for better Covid-19 legal protections and protective resources for frontline caregivers is now calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to veto a bill that passed last month during the General Assembly’s lame duck session. House Bill 3360 mandates 9 percent annual prejudgment interest in personal injury and wrongful death cases, according to Healthcare Heroes of Illinois. The group’s spokesman, Paul Gaynor, has written a letter to the governor, saying the bill would potentially increase provider payouts “to line the trial lawyers’ pockets by at least hundreds of thousands of dollars more, without a stated or clear policy objective.” The group is calling on Pritzker to reinstate Covid-19 civil immunity protections for frontline healthcare workers, which expired last June and resulted in dozens of lawsuits by personal injury attorneys seeking to profit off the pandemic, according to Gaynor.
Cornerstone announcement: An alliance of Illinois professional services firms today announced the launch of the Cornerstone Coalition. The coalition includes legal, accounting and other professional services firm associations, as well as economic development organizations. The coalition’s focus is “supporting Illinois’ future by protecting jobs, restoring economic growth and serving the state through pro bono work and civic leadership,” according to a statement. The group has the support of Jack Lavin, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. “Legal, accounting and other professional services firms are a cornerstone of our economy. These industries have helped make Illinois a global center for business, a great place to live, and they believe in the future of our state.”
— Addressing troubled cannabis licensing rollout among state’s ‘key priorities,’ Pritzker says: “State senators approved legislation during last month’s lame duck session that aimed to resolve the issue by doubling the number of new dispensary licenses and creating a second lottery to determine the winners, but their counterparts in the House failed to call it for a vote. On Wednesday, Pritzker signaled that accomplishing that goal remains front of mind,” writes Sun-Times’ Tom Schuba.
— Owner of Zen Leaf marijuana shops soars on first day of trading: “The company completed a complex reverse merger last week, raising $100 million through a subscription offering that valued Verano at $2.9 billion. The stock will trade under the ticker symbol VRNO,” reports Tribune’s Robert Channick.
— Senate Dems take a page from GOP in judicial nominee battles, by POLITICO’s Marianne LeVine
— ‘Recipe for disaster’: Dem fears mount over immigration overhaul, by POLITICO’s Sabrina Rodriguez and Marc Caputo
— It might just be game over for the Iowa caucus, by POLITICO’s David Siders and Elena Schneider
Sara Albrecht has been named chair of Liberty Justice Center, the public policy legal advocacy group that has filed lawsuits against Illinois’ Covid-19 mitigation rules. The organization led the Janus fight against public employee unions. Albrecht, who’s a familiar name in nonprofit circles as a donor and leader, takes over for John Tillman, who recently stepped down as chair.
Hugo Balta says he was ‘wrongfully terminated” from WTTW: “A station representative said his departure stemmed from ‘undisclosed conflicts of interest’ and ‘repeated’ violations of WTTW’s news standards, while Balta said he was subjected to an ‘unprovoked personal attack’ on his character meant to erode the credibility and trust he had built at Channel 11,” reports Tribune’s Tracy Swartz.
— Opinion: "Let’s briefly praise Rush Limbaugh — then bury him forever," writes POLITICO’s John Harris.
— Remembering Judy Markowitz, a Bloomington ‘community icon’ and mayor, who died this week: “BLOOMINGTON — Standing before the Bloomington City Council nearly 20 years ago, Mayor Judy Markowitz made a personal plea. ‘I’m a Jew … when I was a young girl my family bought a home in an area that didn’t want Jews,’ she said. ‘I don’t think you know until you are discriminated against … what it feels like to be not wanted and not accepted,’” by Pantagraph’s Kevin Barlow.
— Mary Jo McGuire dead at 85, helped run Butch McGuire’s, famed Chicago singles bar: “She had an infectious laugh and welcoming nature that equaled that of her husband, Division Street saloon owner Butch McGuire,” writes Sun-Times’ Maureen O’Donnell. McGuire’s funeral will be live-streamed on Zoom.
WEDNESDAY’s ANSWER: Congrats to union leader Clem Balanoff for correctly answering that former state Rep. Bill Black, a Republican from Danville, counts brothers William and John Black, Civil War Medal of Honor winners, as relatives.
TODAY’s QUESTION: Everyone knows that one governor’s portrait is not allowed in the Hall of Governors in the Capitol. But, which governor has his portrait in there twice? Email to email@example.com.
State Sen. Tony Munoz (1st), Rep. Jonathan Carroll (57th), Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Cook County Commissioner Larry R. Rogers Jr., former Gov. Bruce Rauner, former state Senator and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Paul Schimpf, former Rep. Don Moffitt, and Prairie Group VP of comms and strategy Marissa Gaines.
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February 18, 2021 at 07:11AM