New Pritzker lockdowns driven by politics over science

New Pritzker lockdowns driven by politics over science

Two areas of Illinois faced the same COVID-19 threat but received very different treatment from the governor. One is home to a political power base he needs to pass his progressive income tax in November.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has repeatedly told residents his administration’s response to COVID-19 has been driven entirely by science and data.

But Illinoisans just saw a glaring example of the politics of pandemic, with one area of the state being treated one way for hitting an 8% positive test rate and another area being treated much differently – twice.

On Aug. 18 Pritzker imposed new restrictions in the Metro East region as Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties exceeded an 8% positive test result rate for three days running. Indoor dining and bar service were still allowed, but the state imposed other restrictions such as 11 p.m. closing times, no standing at the bar and a reservation requirement.

The positivity rate still increased, with the latest 7-day rolling average just hitting 10%. As a result, even harsher restrictions were promised under the governor’s rules. But they weren’t delivered. And St. Clair County leaders took to social media to brag on their political coup:

“[Local Democratic state lawmakers] worked to combat the additional restrictions set to be imposed by the Illinois Dept of Public Health,” they wrote.

“IDPH has agreed to monitor the progress without any additional mitigations for another week. Therefore, at this time there will be NO NEW MITIGATIONS imposed on bars and restaurants this Wednesday as previously expected. We thank them for their diligent efforts and we will provide additional information as it is received.”

While local officials were touting the governor’s lack of new restrictions in the Metro East starting Aug. 26, his administration imposed even harsher shutdown measures that same day in another part of the state with similar COVID statistics.

Like the Metro East, Kankakee and Will counties also hit the mark of an 8% positivity rate for three days. But the governor imposed far harsher lockdown measures Aug. 26 on those Chicago collar counties, banning all indoor service at bars and restaurants.

The Republican lawmakers from that area cried foul.

“The governor has decided to place partisan politics above science,” state Sens. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, and John Curran, R-Woodridge, said in a prepared statement. “As a result, Will and Kankakee counties will be forced to ban indoor dining while the Metro East (Region 4) will be given an extra week to improve their numbers. Why the double standard?”

“Because Democrat elected officials from that region pressured the Governor to change this stance,” they said. “Backroom political deals should not be how public health decisions are made. The same rules should apply to all regions, and they should be based on science, not politics.”​

Pritzker admitted he made a mistake regarding the Metro East, which for COVID-19 measures has been designated Region 4. “Unintended,” he said. “It was a mistake in my view ultimately to make the adjustment that we made in Region 4.”

He noted Metro East mitigations have not been working, and said more restrictions are likely next week.

One take that’s floated around Springfield on Pritzker’s motivated scientific methods: the governor owes Metro East Democrats for his primary win and he vitally needs their support Nov. 3 for his “fair tax” ballot question.

Pritzker campaigned on the tax measure, so far putting $56.5 million of his own money into persuading voters it is a good idea. But it is far from certain he’s convincing enough people. University of Illinois at Chicago political science Prof. Dick Simpson said Pritzker and tax proponents have a tougher job than the opponents.

“Not just the general circumstances with COVID, but also the burgeoning bribery allegations implicating Madigan and ComEd means the people’s trust in state government is at a pretty low ebb,” Simpson said. “Because it requires an affirmative vote, you’re asking people to say, ‘Yeah, I trust the state and I want them to have more money.’”

The plan also suffers statewide from Democratic leaders signaling retirement income would be a tax target if voters agree to give state lawmakers greater authority to decide who gets taxed by how much. The Illinois Constitution restricts that power currently by ensuring everyone pays the same rate. Pritzker’s plan also would raise taxes by up to 47% on over 100,000 small businesses – Illinois’ most fertile source of jobs.

Both retirees and small businesses have already taken the brunt of the harm from COVID-19 and the economic downturn. Higher taxes would add insult to illness, but there is a warped consistency to Pritzker wanting to tax people differently based on his definition of the moment – just like he’s willing to treat their health differently based on his definition of the moment.

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