Back a month ago, I wrote a commentary in the Chicago Tribune in which I criticized the governor’s complete lack of communication (and seeming lack of plans) regarding contact tracing, despite the mandate that to move to Phase 3 contact tracing must be implemented, and to move to Phase 4, contact tracing must be fully scaled-up (90% of new diagnoses).
In the meantime, the governor has shifted to statements that contact tracing is already underway at local Departments of Public Health, and has shifted to speaking of a 60% objective (e.g., on May 18 and May 29) as well as a doublespeak rewriting of objectives as reaching 90% of the 60% target (I can no longer find this cite), and relabeling the entire project as “‘a goal’ rather than a requirement” (according to a May 26 Tribune report). However, the Restore Illinois official requirement remains unchanged.
I’ve become resigned to the fact that this is how politics works, that rather than announcing a change that involves an admission of failure and invites demands for other changes, it’s simply memory-holed. And my anger has shifted from the lack of communication to the lack of urgency in the actions of the governor, the mayor, and the Cook County Board President.
With respect to the last of these, an article on June 11 at the Chicago Tribune was the first reporting on the Cook County Department of Public Health’s actions — even when I looked just a few days prior there was no information available on the DPH website; now, the website announces that
CCDPH anticipates starting our first group of contact tracers by early August. Contact tracers will be brought on in groups of 50-100. CCDPH will have a full team by the fall.
Again, remember that this is supposed to be in place in order to move to Phase 4, which is otherwise being targeted for just two weeks from now.
Why is this taking so long?
In part, it appears to be the fault of the Illinois Department of Public Health taking nearly three months to allocate funding from the CARES Act, which passed in March. But it appears, from the Tribune reporting of Preckwinkle’s statements, that the delay is because the county simply does not recognize the urgency of getting the program in place as soon as possible, and is instead using the program to promote social justice objectives even at the cost of delayed implementation.
Preckwinkle said the efforts, funded with a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health, would focus extensively on disproportionately affected groups that have “experienced systemic racism,” including African Americans and Latinos, both in terms of tracing and hiring of new contact tracers. The program also will be bilingual so hundreds of thousands of Spanish-speaking residents are not left out.
“This grant is so important for those who have been most impacted by COVID-19,” said Dr. Kiran Joshi, one of two senior medical officers running the county Department of Public Health, who said blacks in the county have been affected at three times the rate of whites and Latinos at four times the rate. “We intend to hire suburban Cook County residents for these jobs who are culturally competent, multilingual and have great communication skills.”
The county, however, will take several months to ramp up the program, even though many social-distancing restrictions have been lifted by the state and there’s concern that a future surge could occur soon because of recent crowded conditions during protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Now, I well understand the importance of hiring tracers who can gain the trust of the tracees, because a program in which individuals are contacted but refuse assistance to enable them to isolate and refuse to provide information about their contacts because they don’t trust the tracer and can’t be persuaded that the greater good of their community warrants these actions, is fairly useless. But Preckwinkle’s statement goes beyond this acknowledgement to a desire to use the program to advance broader social goals. And that’s wrong — the top priority should be speed, regardless of whether goals of equal opportunity or extra assistance to underrepresented groups must be sacrificed.
In fact, like it or not, it is likely that a focus should be on disproportionately less affected communities, as the low-hanging fruit, with far more payoff in terms of the effectiveness of the effort. It seems to me even more the case state-wide, that nipping in the bud an incipient outbreak in a community that’s otherwise been uneffected would be more successful than the greater challenge of dense urban areas with a pre-existing substantial prevalence.
And it’s not just suburban Cook County — in Chicago itself, the process of hiring contact tracers is set to take much longer than it should, due to a process of first identifying an organization with which to contract out the primary organization of the effort, and then distributing funds to
at least 30 neighborhood-based organizations located within, or primarily serving residents of, communities of high economic hardship
which would work at
recruiting, hiring and supporting a workforce of 600 contact tracers, supervisors and referral coordinators to support an operation that has the capacity to trace 4,500 new contacts per day
with an objective of hiring 150 by August 1, and 300 by September 15.
And, again, quite apart from the appropriateness of prioritizing workers from low-income communities for city jobs, in general, contact tracing is not just a city jobs program. It is an urgent task. The work of hiring tracers should have been started months ago, not months in the future.
What’s more, even this plan is being criticized by Chicago activists, who want the hiring to be done within the Chicago Department of Public Health itself, rather than being outsourced, and who are treating this as a matter of shoring up governmental institutions.
Also joining the group were current and former union officials who have an interest in seeing the ranks of public workers expand. They included Tony Johnston, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union, who said city community colleges should be training new contact tracers, and Matt Brandon, former secretary-treasurer of International Service Employees Union Local 73 and current president of Communities Organized to Win.
Contact tracing is not a jobs program. It is not a stimulus program. It is not an economic rebuilding program for poor communities. It is certainly not a program for building up a unionized workforce. And city, county, and state government officials who treat it as such, rather than ramping up tracing as quickly as possible, during this limited window of opportunity of lowered infection rates due to lockdowns and warmer weather, are failing the people they serve.
It’s right there in black and white: contact tracing is a key part of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan. To move from Phase 2 to Phase 3, permitting the opening of child care, retail, and gatherings of 10 or fewer people, requires the beginnings of “contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis.” To move from Phase 3 to Phase 4, permitting the opening of restaurants, personal care services, health clubs, and schools, as well as gatherings of 50 or fewer people, requires fully scaled-up contract tracing, that is, “for more than 90% of cases in region.”
But as I wrote last Saturday at the Chicago Tribune, however crucial contact tracing is, the state has provided virtually no information on its timing or its progress in implementing the program.
Only just today did the Department of Public Health provide a press release on the topic (can I take credit for this?), informing residents that county public health departments will actually be running the initiative, with funding and technical support from the state, and with Partners in Health in an advisory role. Two specific counties will be “immediately” piloting the program. The governor further stated at today’s (Monday’s) press briefing that at present 29% of diagnoses are “engaged in a tracing process” and “that’s a number we want to push as high as possible, to the industry standard of over 60%.”
Despite this, last week Pritzker announced that “all regions across the state are now on track to meet the metrics needed to move into the next phase of reopening.”
How does this make sense? With only 11 days until the first possible “Phase 3” date, and with only a 2-county pilot program in place, how can the state be on track to meet its Phase 3 contact tracing requirement?
And how does a verbal target of aiming for “the industry standard of 60%” match up with the Phase 4 requirement of 90%?
What’s more, the state provides regular updates to metrics in the areas of testing and hospital admissions and resources, but no updates on contact tracing.
It’s as if they’ve forgotten about these requirements.
Has the state abandoned them, that is, continuing to strive for additional capacity but no longer requiring implementation/scaling to move to the next phase?
And, if so, why is the state not revising its plan, but instead simply treating them as if they don’t exist?
My guess: the governor knows there is tremendous pressure to revise other components of the plan: the inclusion of very geographically distinct counties adjacent to “collar counties” in the same region as Chicago, the continued closure of restaurants until Phase 4, the limitation on gatherings to 50 persons regardless of the capacity of a given facility, and so on. Were he to revise the contact tracing component, he would further increase calls for revisions of other sorts. So long as no one with any particularly strong voice or much political power calls him on this, he continues to be enabled to insist that his plan is unchangeable, set in stone, rather than risking opening it up to the sort of negotiation which he insists is impossible because he is guided solely by “science” and “data”.
Now, this is an admittedly cynical answer, but I can’t make sense of this any other way. And, much as I hate for it to be true, as it implicates a wide range of bureaucrats as well in this convenient omission, it does, at the same time, offer some firmer reason to believe that, however painfully delayed Phases 3 and 4 are implemented, however many restaurants and other small business will shut down, it will at least not be delayed even further.
Readers on other platforms will know that I have been sewing facemasks. My current count is 120 given away; I have a further 20 that are waiting for homes, plus, of course, the ones for our family. I’d been saying, “it makes me feel useful,” especially knowing that my writing at Forbes on retirement isn’t catching many eyes when it’s a stretch to tie things to the pandemic. But I realize that I had been treating it as something of a magical act: if I sew face masks, then things will work out OK.
In the meantime, the CDC’s initial insistence that face masks had no use, and failure to explain themselves sufficiently since then, has now resulted in far too many people rejecting face masks (“the CDC said there’s no point, so clearly the requirement now is just government overreach”). And at the same time, when I go to the store, I see lots of people with manufactured disposable face masks of the sort that we’re told are “reserved for healthcare workers.” The city is sponsoring giveaways — again of disposable masks; another group has sourced fabric masks out of Vietnam. It all leads me to question the utility of the masks I’ve been sewing.
Separately, the other day, in response to a lawsuit, Pritzker added “gathering for religious observance in groups of less than 10” to the list of permitted activities in the state of Illinois. And the neighboring diocese, in fact, permits coming to church for silent prayer; in the Archdiocese of Chicago, everything is shut down tightly, with no indicator that this will change, only a vaguely-worded statement that the archdiocese is “engaged in planning” on the matter.
And now Pritzker has released his “Restore Illinois” plan. I’m not happy. More specifically, it’s so discouraging I feel as if I’ve wasted my time battling the broken threads and birds’ nests of my 60s-era sewing machine, that only a move out-of-state would actually solve anything.
On the one hand, the plan is to be based on regional benchmarks. That’s a plus, I suppose, but my suburban town is lumped in with the city, so it doesn’t help me.
Here are the phases:
Right now, we are in “Phase 2” — a retroactive description of the governor’s changes to his stay-at-home order, with small loosenings of restrictions (curbside pickup rather than complete closure for non-essential stores).
Phase 3 would permit the reopening of “non-essential” businesses and manufacturing; retailers may open with capacity limits; barbershops/salons may open with restrictions; health and fitness clubs can provide outdoor classes. Healthcare providers may also re-open. Heavy, heavy restrictions remain including no gatherings of more than 10, no schools. “Limited child care and summer programs open with IDPH approved safety guidance” — and no further explanation about what this might mean. (Currently there are daycares open for essential workers — would these need-based restrictions remain? Or would the requirements be so stringent that it would effectively result in providers declaring they can’t meet them?) Some elements that I had hoped would be a part of a next-phase, such as outdoor dining, are not here. And a limit of 10 persons is unnecessarily restrictive in cases such as, for example, religious services in buildings large enough to accommodate more than that with wide spacing between individuals or family groups.
In order to declare Illinois (or a region thereof) in Phase 3, the state will require:
- Less than a 20% positivity rate (that is, percent of tests which are positive),
- No increases in admissions for 28 days,
- Available capacity of 14% of ICU beds, hospital beds generally, and ventilators,
- Testing widely available,
- and the implementation of contact tracing procedures (I think – that’s how I interpret “begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis”).
The measurement starts as of May 1, so that the earliest a region can be declared in Phase 3 is May 29, even though, for all but the Northeast (Chicagoland) region, the benchmarks could well be met sooner but for that seemingly-arbitrary requirement, according to a tracking document which the state, it seems, intends to update regularly. And how long would Phase 3 last? The two additional requirements to move to Phase 4 are for testing to be available to all, regardless of risk factors or symptoms, and “begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis for more than 90% of cases in region” — which I why I’m understanding the Phase 3 requirement to be more about contact tracing being underway.
But what would the timeline look like for contact tracing? According to The Southern, the initiative “likely won’t begin in earnest until sometime in late May.” How long would it take to reach this 90% benchmark? I’m not finding anything further on timing in the scanty reports on the initiative, not even speculation of how long it could last, but knowing bureaucracy, this seems a monumental hurdle. (Massachusett’s program is referred to as a model; their program has been running for a month and includes 17,000 people, including infected people and their contacts, relative to 70,271 positive tests so far.) Even discarding my skepticism, how long do Pritzker and his advisors actually have in mind when they set this marker for the transition to Phase 4?
Phase 4 removes many restrictions but keeps many more. Schools are open, all outdoor recreation allowed, bars and restaurants are open, etc. However, crucially, there continue to be capacity limits on theaters, restaurants, and retail, and no gatherings of over 50 people are permitted.
And Phase 5? To permit gatherings of over 50 will require that
Either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.
Separately, the document indicates that the last condition may be met through “herd immunity or other factors” and that the treatment must be “effective and widely available” so as to suggest that the demand goes well beyond the moderate effects of the new drugs or ventilator-avoiding methods thus far.
And this is where it all seems to lose touch with reality. We may never have a vaccine, certainly not for a year or even much longer; and the threshold for an “effective” treatment is undefined but we may not have something that meets these requirements.
The clarifications at today’s press conference (via Capitol Fax) don’t help, either. Pritzker seems to suggest that “treatment” is “a very successful treatment” or, separately, a “highly effective treatment.” Asked about schools having more than 50 students, he says,
There would be strict IDPH guidelines for schools and we talked about this early on when we were trying to figure out if we needed to close schools or not, that, could you have classrooms of [garbled] kids meeting, if the restriction was 50 for example. And would that work and so the answer is IDPH is going to be working with schools on how they can best do this coming into the fall assuming that we’re in phase four.
Does Pritzker actually have a plan? Has he given serious consideration to how his phases will actually work in the real world? It certainly doesn’t appear as if he has a real answer with respect to children (neither “the data shows the risk to children is virtually nonexistent” nor “we’ll ask schools to come up with as many precautions as possible and eliminate assemblies and other gatherings”). Is he relying on the emergence of a game-changing treatment over the summer?
And nowhere in this plan is a mention of nursing homes and assisted living communities. When will their residents be able to see their families again, or even gather within the community? For those with cognitive issues, this is not merely about being patient but about their well-being.
Democrats are praising the plan, again according to Capitol Fax, with Senate President Don Harmon calling it “forward-looking” and Comptroller Susan Mendoza, “carefully-thought-out” and “science-based.” But there are so many holes — and, no, there is no reference to any sort of footnoted, detailed second document.
The bottom line is that this document is a serious disappointment. Using labels such as “recovery,” “revitalization,” and “restored” is nothing more than a cruel joke as long as the plan is so vague and unrealistic.
Today marks the start of the mask-mandate in Illinois. All persons over age 2 must wear a face mask in any public place in which they cannot maintain a six-foot distance from others — that is, indoors while shopping and in any crowded outdoor place.
Tutorials exist all over the internet: Save the manufactured masks for healthcare workers; use fabric. Use tightly-woven cotton, if possible. Add a non-woven inner layer via an opening for a filter, or a third layer of flannel. The Illinois mandate does not specify that one must wear a “face mask” per se but a covering of the nose and mouth, so that improvised options such as a bandana are also acceptable.
The Chicago Tribune has reported on various mask giveaways such as the group Masks4Chi which is importing fabric masks from Vietnam, as well as various community distribution efforts (which appear to be oriented around manufactured one-time masks). And, of course, large numbers of home sewers have been making masks and selling or giving them away — to nursing homes and assisted living communities, grocery store baggers, anyone they come across who’s in need. (Yes, I’m one of them — my current tally is 118 given away, and another dozen in various stages of completion — and it surprises me that the giveaway efforts don’t have a parallel organized effort to collect donations for the general public.)
Does Gov. Pritzker have the legal authority to mandate mask-wearing?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Downstate Rep. Darren Bailey filed suit against the stay-at-home order’s extension, and won a court victory, for himself, and subsequently Rep. John Cabello of Machesney Park filed suit calling for the same ruling to be applied to all Illinoisans. Are their legal arguments valid? I’ll be honest — I am not seeing reporting that answers that question. Instead, Pritzker and others react as if the pursuit of the greater good of public health prohibits even the asking of that question, though, at the same time, Pritzker has, in breaking news, rescinded a part of his executive order that prohibited religious gatherings, in reaction to a separate lawsuit. (Previously, even drive-in services were prohibited; now they will be allowed.)
And a Chicago Tribune editorial today called for the legislature to meet. Not only could they legislatively affirm Pritzker’s orders, but they could attend to other pressing state business, including the deadline on Monday for placing on the November ballot an amendment to end gerrymandering of General Assembly districts. The editorial notes that a one-time meeting would be sufficient for the legislature to enable virtual meetings; alternatively, Pritzker could use his power to convene the GA elsewhere — columnist John Kass suggests, for more-than-sufficient social distancing, the United Center. Of course, Kass also suggests that, behind the scenes, it’s House Speaker Michael Madigan calling the shots, and refusing to meet, so that Pritzker takes the heat.
What’s more, I’m seeing on Facebook plans to circumvent the mask requirement. After all, the ruling provides an exemption for those who cannot medically tolerate a mask. Claim to those who question you that you’re exempt for medical reasons, further insist that your medical privacy rights prohibit their questioning the specific ailment you have and, voila, you can skip the mask.
But here’s the bottom line: even if you object to the mandate, you should still wear a mask.
Yes, the CDC was foolish in its prior insistence that there is no value in mask-wearing, and, though I’ve speculated elsewhere as to why they did so, I’ve not seen a definitive (and convincing) explanation for this, nor for why, on April 3, they changed their recommendations. But even the Illinois Policy Institute, ordinarily an opponent of Pritzker, states plainly:
The point of wearing a mask is to protect others. The idea is that if one person is an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, wearing a mask will limit their ability to transmit the virus to others.
Folks, I’ve been sewing face masks since so early on that when I first picked up fabric and notions I was able to get not only elastic but also “fun” Marvel print cotton fabric straight off the store shelves. Perhaps I’ve spent enough years as an international retirement actuary to have had on my radar more than others that we can reasonably look at what’s going on in other places, and early on it was clear that places like Hong Kong and Taiwan had both a firmer control on the coronavirus than elsewhere and had a practice of wearing masks. (Yes, I first blogged about this on my personal blog on March 16, in which I speculated about whether face mask-wearing could ever take root in the U.S.; four days later, I had convinced myself that sewing was the right thing to do, even though the calls were mostly for healthcare workers. When did I first don a face mask myself when going out to the store? I’m not sure.)
It might feel that wearing a mask gives a “win” to Pritzker, that you’re sacrificing your freedom. I get that.
But face mask-wearing is important to protect those around you, in the event, however unlikely you consider it to be, that you have yourself been unknowingly infected. And even if you judge it impossible to have been infected, face mask-wearing is a visible way to encourage those around you to wear masks, so that any one of your friends, neighbors, or fellow shoppers who is unknowing infectious, will wear a face mask and protect those around them.
I suspect that those who protest this order nonetheless consider themselves to be good citizens who care about the welfare of others, even if they’d rather it not be mandated. I, too, wish we had all adopted mask-wearing practices without a mandate. But that’s where we are. And, to be honest, I am at least glad not to be the “weirdo in a mask” any longer.
Pritzker calls a constitutional amendment reforming pensions a “fantasy.” Here’s why he’s wrong.
Joel Osteen may not be a household name, but he’s a familiar face among the inspirational books at your local Target. Literally – his books, with titles such as “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential” and “Next Level Thinking: 10 Powerful Thoughts for a Successful and Abundant Life,” feature his big smile on the front cover. He’s one of those preachers about whom it’s best to say that he identifies as Christian, because the message that he preaches, given the name Prosperity Gospel, doesn’t look all too much like actual Christian doctrine. Instead, he tells his audience, in his 56,000-seat converted-stadium Lakewood Church, and in his books, that they are made for greatness if only they “Name and Claim” the material prosperity that is the destiny of all who have enough faith.
It’s the sort of belief that’s routinely mocked by the satire site The Babylon Bee, with such articles as “Report: Imprisoned Chinese Christians Maintaining Faith By Secretly Reading Smuggled, Tattered Copy Of ‘Your Best Life Now’“, “Joel Osteen Targets Millennials With New Book: ‘You Can Even!’“, and the Snopes fact-checked classic “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now’,” which “reports” that:
Osteen had his on-call yacht captain steer the large vessel through the flooded streets of the city, pulling up to survivors stranded on their roofs and on the roof of their cars as the prosperity gospel preacher smiled, waved, and threw out signed editions of the bestselling positive thinking book.
“Believe and declare you are coming into a shift!” Osteen yelled through a bullhorn, according to reports. “God wants His best for you! Enlarge your vision, develop a healthy self image, and choose to be happy!”
“When you think positive, excellent thoughts, you will be propelled toward greatness!” he called out to one family floating on a raft on a freeway-turned-river, whose earthly possessions had been entirely destroyed the previous day.
And when I listen to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, in his speeches and interviews, I hear a lot of Prosperity Gospel hucksterism. Oh, sure, he doesn’t want us to send him “seed money,” but he wants us to believe — to believe that all that ails the state of Illinois is negative thinking, and what’s needed to fix the state is to name and claim our future prosperity by believing that the state is doing well and destined for more business investment.
In an interview at the Economic Club of Chicago back in November, he said,
We spent years where the leader of the state and allies were spending hundreds of millions of dollars to tell all of us how bad the state is. . . . The narrative we need to change is that we can’t solve these problems. . . . The reality is these are hard . . . . we need to focus on . . . pensions, property taxes, balancing the budget, paying down our bill backlog, and growing jobs in the state. . . . But the narrative about Illinois is we are a state on the rise.That we’ve had our challenges, that’s for sure. That we were going in the wrong direction, but we are turning the ship in the right direction, and we are powering ourselves forward.”
(This is my transcription paired with an additional citation from Wirepoints.)
And in his State of the State speech earlier this week, Pritzker said,
Those who would shout doom and gloom might be loud – using social media bots and paid hacks to advance their false notions – but they are not many. You see, we’re wresting the public conversation in Illinois back from people concerned with one thing and one thing only — predicting total disaster, spending hundreds of millions of dollars promoting it, and then doing everything in their power to make it happen.
I’m here to tell the carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics – the State of our State is growing stronger each day.
Is Illinois’ economic well-being and financial state improving? It’s still second from the bottom in “taxpayer burden” according to the watchdog group Truth in Accounting. Chicago is likewise second-worst among the 75 largest cities. Among the 10 largest cities, Chicago is worst in terms of total debt (city, county, and state) taxpayers face — and I presume that if they’d had the resources for a more extensive analysis, Chicago would still be at the bottom. Watchdog group Wirepoints compiled a long list of unpleasant narratives, including a worst-in-the-nation credit rating, one notch above junk, falling home prices, and rankings of news outlets such as U.S. News and World Report (worst state in the nation for fiscal stability), Kiplinger (least tax-friendly), and WalletHub (highest tax burden).
Who are the hucksters and carnival barkers? It’s Pritzker himself who fits the bill, promising voters that a graduated income tax would mean forgoing shared sacrifice in favor of a tax cut for nearly everyone and would save the day not only by filling budget holes but by generating extra cash for property tax reductions, and believing that sufficient levels of optimism will lead corporations to eagerly locate new offices and factories in the state.
And as for me — well, if you can tell me how to turn my frustration at pension debt into the business of being a paid hack, I’m all ears.
Yes, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker gave his “state of the state” speech today, and, a year into his term, it’s no surprise that he’s celebrating — and it’s no surprise that I’m skeptical.
What does he say? Let’s take a look.
Today the Illinois economy supports 6.2 million jobs. This is the most jobs on record for our state, and we now have the lowest unemployment rate in history. . . . Over the past year, Illinois has reduced its unemployment rate more than ALL of the top twenty most populated states in the nation — and more than our Midwestern peers.
Note that phrasing — “reduced . . . more.” Illinois’s current unemployment rate is 3.7%. That’s above-average, in a 5-way tie for 31st. Michigan’s is higher, yes, at 3.9, and Ohio at 4.2. But Wisconsin is at 3.4, Missouri 3.3, Indiana 3.2, and Iowa 2.7.
237 Illinois businesses from all over the state made Inc Magazine’s List of Fastest Growing Businesses in the Nation.
That’s not all that spectacular in a ranking of 5000 companies; Illinois’s population works out to 3.9% of the total population of the US, and we have 4.7% of the fastest-growing businesses. Yay, I guess?
Illinois is the second-largest producer of computer science degrees in the nation, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all computer science degrees awarded in the entire United States.
Yes, the University of Illinois is highly ranked in this field, and has actively recruited international (Chinese) students to pay full-price tuition.
Pritzker trumpets the “balanced” budget (however precarious that balance is, relying as it does on one time gambling and pot license fees) and the infrastructure bill (laden with the inevitable pork for Democratic legislators to “give” to their constituents).
He touts apprenticeships — though not as a general program but insofar as public works projects will be required to include, ahem, “diverse employees” (that is, code for underrepresented minorities).
He boasts that pot legalization will “result in 63,000 new jobs” (ugh, again – if these are new jobs rather than newly-legal jobs, then does that mean the state is banking on more people taking up using pot, rather than merely coming out from the black market?), and new “tax revenue from the residents of Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana” (more ugh – it’s in bad taste to plan on enticing out-of-staters to come here to buy produces illegal in their home state).
Pritzker praises the restoration of driver’s licenses for those with unpaid parking tickets and fines, which is worthy enough. He makes the same claim of having gotten a start on fixing pensions based on two small changes which promise “free money” rather than tough sacrifices.
He praises himself for more changes:
We raised the minimum wage, advanced equal pay for women and minorities, provided millions of Illinoisans relief from high interest on consumer debt, and expanded health care to tens of thousands more people across the state.
Of these, it remains to be seen how rural areas will cope with a high minimum wage. I don’t recall offhand what Pritzker did in furtherance of equal pay (maybe one of those laws that prospective employers can’t ask for past salary history?), I am guessing that the interest relief was an under-the-radar interest rate cap, and I’m puzzled by the healthcare expansion since Medicaid was expanded some years ago with Obamacare.
Working with Senator Andy Manar, we capped out-of-pocket insulin costs at $100 for a 30-day supply so that no one in Illinois has to decide between buying food and paying for the medicine they need to stay alive.
Er, make that, “no one with a diagnosis of diabetes” . . .
We expanded insurance coverage for mammograms and reproductive health.
This is Pritzker’s only reference to his abortion expansion law, in which insurance companies are required to cover abortion. “Reproductive health,” my a**. The mammograms bit is, from memory, a matter of requring that insurance companies cover follow-up testing for mammograms without cost-sharing. Which is fine enough but every insurance coverage mandate boosts premiums, and it’s really not right for legislators to pat themselves on the back as if they’ve made a real difference when they’re just shifting costs in a politically popular way for certain favored ailments.
We stopped bad-mouthing the state and started passing laws that make Illinois more attractive for businesses and jobs. Working across the aisle, we brought tax relief for 300,000 small businesses through the phase out of the corporate franchise tax. And we laid the groundwork for new high-paying tech jobs by opening new business incubators, by incentivizing the building of new data centers, and by investing $100 million in a University of Illinois and University of Chicago partnership that will make Illinois the quantum computing capital of the world.
This is what bugs me: Pritzker repeatedly makes the claim that what was wrong with Illinois in the past, and what prevented businesses from investing here, was that we were “bad-mouthing the state.” And then it’s back to the same-old same-old: special tax treatment (“phase out of the corporate franchise tax” . . . “incentivizing the building of new data centers”) and more government spending (“clean energy legislation” which, to my knowledge, consists of some combination of state subsidies and mandates for solar and wind generation, and $100 million based on Pritzker’s say-so).
But at the same time, it is commendable that he spent a significant amount of time addressing corruption, in light of the guilty plea yesterday of former state Senator Martin Sandoval.
And now we have to work together to confront a scourge that has been plaguing our political system for far too long. We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption — in both parties — whose presence infects the bloodstream of government. It’s no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion, or bribery persist. Protecting that culture or tolerating it is no longer acceptable. We must take urgent action to restore the public’s trust in our government.
But then he says,
That’s why we need to pass real, lasting ethics reform this legislative session.
But Sandoval and all the other crooks were not engaged in shady, unethical-but-not-illegal actions. They were actual crooks. And he addresses that —
Change needs to happen. And much of this change needs to happen outside of the scope of legislation. It’s about how we, as public officials, conduct ourselves in private that also matters.
But this is after a long digression into his commitment to diversity, which leaves me quite skeptical as to whether he really “gets” it or whether he thinks it’s simply time for other groups to have a turn helping themselves to the spoils.
The bottom line for me — and admittedly my opinion counts for squat — is that, because of years upon years of literal corruption as well as indifference to fiscal prudence, Pritzker, as well as, really, any Illinois politician, has a very high threshold to cross to prove that they are working to further the well-being of the people of Illinois, rather than enriching their own pocketbook or making happy the interest groups who have enabled their election, and that they are adequately evaluating the consequences of their plans rather than convincing themselves that liberally spending money is the path to prosperity.
I don’t see anything yet that shows he has earned that trust. Not the “found money” gimmicks of pot and gambling expansion. Not the so-called “fair tax” in which, rather than calling for everyone to shoulder increased taxes, he promises that “the rich” will pay for everything, including a (trivial) tax cut for the rest of us. And certainly not the “infrastructure” giveaways.
So there you have it. Do you trust Pritzker, or, really, anyone in Illinois government?