Illinois government saw too many make ‘naughty’ list in 2020
COVID-19 showed everyone the heroes in health care and essential services, but it also exposed weak character or bad behavior of many in Illinois government.
Illinois has big reserves of coal, which is good because Santa will need a lot of it to cover the misdeeds in Illinois state government from 2020.
Here are some highlights of those making the “naughty” and “nice” lists during a year of unrest, uncertainty and dysfunction in Illinois.
Naughty: Mike Madigan
Illinois House Speaker Madigan’s 35 years of accumulating power was at great risk after federal prosecutors and Commonwealth Edison detailed how over $1.3 million in payments were made to his cronies to win his favor for legislation worth more than $150 million to the electric utility. Similar allegations are being probed involving AT&T, Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center.
Madigan has deflected past scandals involving sexual harassment, Metra and McCormick Place, but the ComEd bribery scandal had the two U.S. senators from Illinois and the governor calling for his ouster as Illinois Democratic Party chairman and 19 House Democrats pledging not to support him for another term as speaker Jan. 13.
Naughty: Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Pritzker kept his campaign promise to push for a graduated state income tax, but by the time voters got a good look at the “fair tax” they overwhelmingly rejected it Nov. 3. Pritzker’s proposal held the potential to tax retirees, bump taxes on over 100,000 small businesses up to 47%, create a marriage penalty and entrust more taxing power to state lawmakers who were working hard to prove themselves untrustworthy.
Pritzker tried to scare voters to his position by threatening a 20% tax hike on everyone if he didn’t get his “fair tax.” Then after the loss, Pritzker claimed voters were “deceived” into rejecting his tax, even though he was sued because the official ballot language and explanation mailer failed to give voters an unbiased version of the question.
Naughty: Illinois Department of Employment Security
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged and Pritzker ordered wide segments of the Illinois economy shuttered, as many as 200,000 workers a week sought unemployment assistance being funded by the federal government. Illinois’ unemployment system bungled the response.
First, the IDES unemployment claims system was so overwhelmed and left idled workers waiting so long that a $22 million system was put in place by a no-bid contractor. Two months after the pandemic hit, gig workers were finally added to the system and it promptly exposed personal information such as Social Security numbers of 32,483 of them. Then, IDES mistakenly overpaid gig workers and independent contractors before demanding big repayments long after the money was spent on living expenses.
Naughty: Illinois General Assembly
Illinois state lawmakers were content to quarantine at home and allow Pritzker to repeatedly declare statewide emergencies so he could issue emergency orders to deal with COVID-19. House members in 2019 were in session for 73 days, but only 25 in 2020 while collecting about $66,000 in base salary, $10,000 stipends for committee chairs and pension accruals. Some state lawmakers did try to limit Pritzker’s emergency powers in the courts, but none had succeeded as 2020 came to a close. Two Democratic lawmakers from Chicago – state Rep. Ann Williams and state Sen. Robert Martwick – introduced a bill Dec. 21 allowing the General Assembly to remotely meet and vote in emergency situations.
Nice: Julie Porter
The former Legislative Inspector General called out state lawmakers for stopping her as watchdog from doing anything about wrongdoing by their peers. Porter, a former federal prosecutor, testified she never would have taken the job had she known lawmakers would quash legitimate investigations against sitting lawmakers. State Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, introduced a bill to give the inspector general greater independence and power, but Madigan placed the bill in the House Rules Committee to die.
Nice: Michael Shakman and Paul Lurie
More than 50 years ago, the two lawyers began a battle against public employees being used for politicking at the local and state levels. As Pritzker tried to end the oversight and rules governing patronage hiring within the state departments he controls, the pair again emerged to fight him, saying patronage and cronyism still thrive in Illinois government.
Illinois’ leaders have a chance to get on the “nice” list during 2021, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot came closer when she asked state lawmakers for meaningful pension reform to help deal with soaring costs in her city. Instead of threats about 20% state tax increases or even more cuts in a state that already charges too much for ever less, state lawmakers and Pritzker should work to give voters a say about amending the Illinois Constitution to allow for commonsense pension reforms, such as replacing automatic 3% raises for life with true cost-of-living adjustments.
Most Illinoisans already said that’s a nice solution.