December 22, 2020
Without action from Washington, any economic recovery will be blunted at best, and our most vulnerable populations and lower- and middle-income folks will bear the brunt of the stagnation.
Earlier this week, following months of delays and stalled negotiations, the United States Congress finally passed additional coronavirus relief. Some Illinois individuals and businesses will receive limited financial support that will hopefully allow them to hang on through the end of the year.
However, it is now clear that the State of Illinois, its local governments and governments across the United States will close the calendar year with no additional financial assistance from the federal government, aside from some important but insufficient transit funding and targeted funding to offset expenses in public education and healthcare.
For nine months, Illinois and its municipalities in every direction have pleaded for help from the only governing body that has the means to make the countercyclical investments necessary to weather the financial storm brought on by the pandemic.
Members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, led by Senator Durbin, had been instrumental in working to include significant funding for state and local governments in the relief package.
Unfortunately, that provision was pulled from the final bill. The Civic Federation remains hopeful that Congressional leaders will very quickly revisit this work when they reconvene in January.
Illinois and Chicago unquestionably entered the pandemic in worse financial shape than many other governments. Decades of fiscal recklessness certainly contributed to this situation. But it is also true that the entire nation faces an unprecedented economic and fiscal crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Illinois governments are now among a growing cohort of states, cities, towns and transit agencies across the nation that face intense financial challenges and have been forced to make significant service cuts or have employed risky financial practices and built budgets on the prospect of additional assistance.
Without federal action, any economic recovery will be blunted at best, and our most vulnerable populations and lower and middle income folks will bear the brunt of the stagnation.
Further direct federal support to residents and businesses remains a critical piece of the puzzle, especially in areas under the sole purview of the federal government.
With additional support to states and municipalities, these governments can enact supplementary programs and make investments to protect the livelihoods of their residents, small businesses, human service agencies, health care organizations and others. Only with federal assistance can we ensure a robust economic recovery.
Compounding our state’s difficulties, the Illinois General Assembly has not held a session since May, when the $43 billion budget was passed with virtually no opportunity for public vetting. Many other states used their spring sessions to enact temporary or permanent policies for remote legislation.
Meanwhile, Governor Pritzker has commendably served as the lone voice at the state level on coronavirus response and recovery. However, the Governor’s options are limited, and the General Assembly needs to find a way to reconvene in order to address the many issues left on the table in May.
A bill introduced to the General Assembly this week to allow for emergency-situation remote legislating is highly encouraging, if long overdue, and should be taken up as soon as possible. The Civic Federation looks forward to supporting this bill and, with any luck, to commending Illinois legislative leaders in the near future for their successful efforts on this front.
Laurence Msall is president of the Civic Federation.