SPRINGFIELD – Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly released a proposed set of new congressional district maps Friday, just days before lawmakers return to the Statehouse for the start of their fall veto session, which begins Oct. 19.
All states redraw their congressional districts following each decennial census. The proposed new maps reflect the fact that Illinois will have only 17 congressional districts after the 2022 elections, down from its current 18 districts, due to the state’s loss of population since the 2010 census.
The draft proposal includes a number of oddly-shaped districts, many of which would create entirely new constituencies for incumbent members of Congress, particularly Republicans.
As expected, southern Illinois, which saw the most dramatic population declines, would essentially be compressed from having two districts to just one. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, would see his 12th District nearly double in size geographically to take in almost the entire southern end of the state, from an area just east of the Metro East region all the way to the Ohio River.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, who represents what is currently called the 15th District in southern and east-central Illinois, would be placed in an entirely new 16th District that takes in Oakland, curls around the city of Champaign and stretches west across much of central Illinois to an area just south of the Quad Cities.
Illinois could play a pivotal role in the 2022 congressional elections as Democrats try to hold onto their slim majority. The U.S. House is split 220-212 in favor of Democrats with three seats currently vacant – two last held by Democrats and one last held by a Republican.
Historically, however, the party that occupies the White House loses congressional seats in a new president’s first midterm election, a pattern that does not bode well for Democrats.
“Call this new Illinois map the Nancy Pelosi Protection Plan,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy said in a statement.
The proposed new maps that were released Friday might be only the first draft of a redistricting plan. The House Redistricting Committee held one hearing Friday after the proposal was released, and it drew more public participation than most of the previous hearings. It will hold another at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Springfield.
The Senate Redistricting Committee canceled its Friday meeting and scheduled another for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Statehouse.
The map can be viewed by clicking here.
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NURSING HOME REPORT: A new report released Wednesday, Oct. 13, says staffing shortages at nursing homes in Illinois have reached crisis proportions and that people of color are most at risk of suffering the consequences.
That’s because those individuals are more likely to live in understaffed facilities or in “ward” rooms with three or four beds per room, the report notes, a fact that became tragically evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when Black and brown Medicaid patients in nursing homes were 40 percent more likely to die of the disease than white patients.
The report by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services calls for a dramatic overhaul in the way the state Medicaid program reimburses nursing homes to reward those that improve their staffing levels and quality of care.
The agency is proposing a $345 million increase in nursing home reimbursement rates, with increases tied to a facility’s staffing and other quality and safety improvements. That money would come from a combination of streamlining billing procedures and an increase in a tax the state levies on each nursing facility occupied bed in the state, a pool of money that also draws additional federal Medicaid reimbursements.
That would translate to an average payment rate increase of about 13 percent, although the amount for any given facility would vary. Funding increases would be based on a formula that also takes a facility’s profit margin into account so that profitable nursing homes that do not adequately staff their facilities would not see their reimbursements increase on par with those that do.
The report notes that Illinois spends billions of dollars each year on nursing facility care for roughly 45,000 Medicaid patients, but the state consistently ranks last in the nation for staffing, as measured by the national Staff Time and Resource Intensity Verification, or STRIVE Project. In fact, Illinois accounts for 47 of the 100 most understaffed facilities in the nation when comparing actual staffing levels against their STRIVE target levels.
Andy Allison, DHFS’s deputy director for strategic planning and analytics, said increased funding alone will not solve the staffing shortage in nursing homes. He said the industry itself also needs to make fundamental changes to address its workforce challenges.
“We are in a an urgent race to strengthen that labor market – not to capture them, but to entice them to stay in the serving profession that they've chosen,” he said. “And one of the ways to do that is to make it more of a profession, to give it a pay scale, to allow for promotion, to provide a payoff to staying with it.”
Wednesday’s hearing before a joint meeting of four health care-related House committees was for informational purposes only, and no action was taken.
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PRITZKER TAXES: Gov. JB Pritzker’s campaign released summary documents of his 2020 tax returns Friday, which showed the first family reporting $5.14 million in adjusted gross income, all from taxable interest and dividends.
The campaign released seven pages summarizing the governor’s and first lady MK Pritzker’s returns, which were prepared by Deloitte Tax LLP. It did not release tax returns from trusts benefitting Illinois’ first family, stating in an email only the amount the trusts paid in taxes.
“According to the information provided by the trustees, in 2020, trusts benefitting JB Pritzker paid $16.3 million in Illinois taxes and $69.6 million in federal taxes,” the campaign said in an email.
The Pritzkers claimed $2.86 million in standard and itemized deductions, according to their federal 1040 form, although the campaign did not release the Schedule A form outlining the breakdown of those deductions. The campaign did say in an email the Pritzkers made $2.8 million in personal charitable donations last year.
Other deductions that can be claimed on a Schedule A form include medical and dental expenses, state and local real estate and personal property taxes, mortgage interest paid, casualty and theft losses and more.
A campaign spokesperson said it would not be releasing the full Schedule A form or any information other than the summaries but did not give a reason why.
The Pritzkers also claimed $83,681 in qualified business income deductions, although the campaign did not release the full 8995 form which outlines those deductions. The tax return summary document also showed the Pritzkers claimed a $142,046 foreign tax credit, although it did not include any corresponding documentation.
That made for a federal taxable income of $2.2 million, on which the Pritzkers paid $529,104 in total federal taxes, according to the partial returns. The Pritzkers paid $230,643 in Illinois taxes at the state’s flat 4.95 percent rate. That was after a $21,702 deduction for income taxes paid in another state.
Forbes estimates Pritzker, who is heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, to have a net worth of $3.6 billion.
The $5.14 million in total income is up from the previous year, but far below the Pritzkers’ 2017 reported pre-governorship income of approximately $55 million, as reported by the Associated Press at the time.
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REBUILD ILLINOIS PROJECT: A railway improvement project intended to greatly improve traffic congestion between St. Louis and Chicago reached a milestone Tuesday as work began on a multimodal transportation hub in the capital city.
Gov. JB Pritzker was joined at a groundbreaking ceremony by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, along with several state lawmakers and local government officials, both Republicans and Democrats, to break ground on the Springfield Sangamon County Transportation Center, or what local officials have come to call “The Hub.”
“When this multimodal facility is completed, public mass transit will make the communities of Chatham and Sherman, Springfield, Rochester and Riverton as well as adjacent communities, more accessible to each other, and to St. Louis and Chicago and beyond,” Pritzker said during the ceremony.
“I feel sad and sorry for the people of Chicago,” said Macon County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Kris Thompson. "They’re the ones who are going to suffer if half the officers are sent home."
Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter said the $86 million Hub is just one part of a massive, $122 million project to upgrade the entire six-mile stretch of line that passes through the city that includes rerouting the line away from the city’s downtown.
For decades, the major rail line carrying both passenger and freight trains from St. Louis to Chicago has passed directly through the center of Springfield’s downtown.
As part of the state’s $45 billion capital improvements program passed in 2019, that traffic will be diverted several blocks to the east. That is just one part of a major upgrade to rail service along the entire St. Louis-to-Chicago line that is intended to improve the flow of traffic and ease rail congestion along the route.
Duckworth described it as a project that will have economic benefits for the entire state and the nation.
According to the project’s website, officials expect to complete design of the Hub by the end of this year. That will include determining what amenities and services will be located in and near the center. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2025.