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Gov. J.B. Pritzker is proposing tax increases on businesses just months after they led the charge against his progressive income tax initiative.

Pritzker wants lawmakers’ help in passing a budget that he said “removes corporate loopholes” by clawing nearly $1 billion from Illinois businesses a year after thousands were closed by his pandemic-induced executive orders.

Pritzker gave his budget address Wednesday afternoon. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the governor presented virtually from the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

“I had bolder plans for our state budget than what I am going to present to you today. It would be a lie to suggest otherwise,” he said. “But as all our families have had to make hard choices over the last year, so too does state government. And right now, we need to pass a balanced budget that finds the right equilibrium between tightening our belts and preventing more hardships for Illinoisans already carrying a heavy load.”

His $41.6 billion budget proposal includes no new income tax hikes, something he warned would happen if the state didn’t scrap its flat tax protection in the Illinois Constitution.

In revising the revenue forecast up and erasing the budget gap with extended borrowing, Pritzker now estimates the state will have a budget surplus.

The state was facing a $3.9 billion budget shortfall in November. Pritzker said he has closed that gap. They borrowed from the federal Municipal Liquidity Facility fund, Illinois’ treasury funds, and other accounts controlled by the state comptroller. He said a November estimate was conservative and the state plans to pay what’s due in federal loan repayments early. Pritzker expects to end the current fiscal year with a $77 million surplus and increase that to $120 million if lawmakers follow his lead.

Illinois’ Constitution requires lawmakers to enact a balanced budget, but that requirement is often sidestepped with overly-optimistic revenue estimates.

Read more here.

Related:Illinois GOP launches FirePritzker.org while Democrats say Republicans don’t have pandemic recovery plan

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The plywood over the windows, which cost taxpayers $30,000, was starting to come down Thursday. That’s after nearly a week of a heightened security presence based on a threat that never materialized.

Last week, images of construction crews putting plywood over the windows of the Illinois State Capitol were mixed with images of armed Illinois National Guard soldiers blocking streets and creating a perimeter around the complex.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday ordered 250 soldiers from the Illinois National Guard to support security at the capitol and other state government buildings in Springfield. The move was in response to a threat the FBI said involved possible armed protests at the state capitals of every state leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden Wednesday.

Such protests never materialized in Illinois.

Read on here.

Related:Now-closed McCormick Place COVID-19 hospital cost taxpayers $15M to staff, run

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Even subtracting COVID-19 deaths, Illinois still suffered its largest population drop in modern history in the first year of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s fiscal policies, including 20 new tax and fee hikes, as well as his pandemic response.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Illinois recorded a seventh straight year of population loss, but the drop was historic – 79,487 residents from July 2019 to July 2020, the most since World War II and the second largest of any state in raw numbers or percentage of population.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Dec. 22 shows only New York lost a greater number or share of residents during the year.

The data marks the seventh consecutive year Illinois has experienced population decline, the longest streak in state history. That streak is the second-longest in the nation, behind only West Virginia, which has battled population decline for eight consecutive years. Meanwhile, Connecticut is the only other state to experience seven consecutive years of population decline. However, Illinois holds the distinct title of suffering the most consecutive years of worsening population decline, being the only state where population loss has accelerated each year for the past seven years.

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That brought the total cost to build and run the short-lived facility to about $81.1 million, including construction costs. The emergency facility will not reopen, state officials say.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (from left), Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, touring the $65.9 million emergency coronavirus hospital at McCormick Place on April 17 — the day Pritzker announced the first five patients had been transferred there. Only 33 more would follow, as a feared COVID-19 crush at hospitals eased.
(Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times)

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raced to build a $66 million emergency COVID-19 field hospital inside McCormick Place last spring, state and city officials scrambled to find the staff, equipment and supplies to run it.

The tab for all of that was another $20.3 million, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show, though state officials say two vendors returned a total of $5.2 million of “unspent funds.”

That brought the total cost of building and staffing the short-lived, makeshift coronavirus hospital to about $81.1 million.

State and city officials say they expect most of the costs for the McCormick Place hospital to be covered by the federal government.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency spent $19 million to staff and operate the hospital. City Hall put in another $1.3 million for materials and supplies.

The McCormick Place field hospital, built by Walsh Construction, one of Chicago’s most politically well-connected contractors, opened in mid-April. It was shut down only weeks later, on May 8, as the demand for hospital beds for coronavirus patients eased, and it was deemed by state and city officials to no longer be needed.

Read more of the Sun*Times Watchdog report here.

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Supporters of a plan to create a graduated income tax rate system in Illinois are conceding the race.

“We are undoubtedly disappointed with this result but are proud of the millions of Illinoisans who cast their ballots in support of tax fairness in this election,” said Quentin Fulks, who led the Vote Yes for Fairness campaign. “Now lawmakers must address a multibillion dollar budget gap without the ability to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share.”

The amendment required either 60% of those voting on the amendment to vote yes, or a simple majority of all ballots cast in the election must favor it. The most recent figures show the proposal to change the state’s constitutional requirement of a flat income tax rate lost outright by hundreds of thousands of votes.

With about 97% of the state’s precincts reporting, unofficial results show 55% of voters were against the proposal.

“It is clear that Illinoisans do not trust this legislature and this administration to spend more of their precious tax dollars without restraint,” said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch.

Read on here.

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$1.7 million per patient!

(From left) Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, touring the $65.9 million emergency coronavirus hospital at McCormick Place on April 17 — the day Pritzker announced the first five patients had been transferred there. Only 33 more would follow. Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Taxpayers spent nearly $66 million fashioning McCormick Place into an emergency coronavirus hospital with 2,750 beds this past spring amid fears that COVID-19 patients would overwhelm hospitals in the Chicago area.

Those fears turned out to be unfounded. Just 38 patients were transferred to the sprawling convention center — meaning taxpayers’ cost for the makeshift hospital turned out to be more than $1.7 million per patient, on average.

But top aides to Mayor Lori Lightfoot say her decision to initiate the project with the federal government and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority was an important “insurance policy” at a time of “immense emergency.”

“It’s something I’m incredibly proud of,” says Samir Mayekar, Lightfoot’s deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development who says the money was “not spent in vain.”

He also notes that the medical equipment is being stored and can be redeployed if needed.

To complete the McCormick Place project, the authority — a city-state governmental body known as McPier that runs the convention center and owns Navy Pier — tapped Walsh Construction, a politically connected Chicago company that’s built everything from highways to high-rises.

Read the full Sun*Times Watchdog report here.

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