Gov. Pritzker fails to plan for Illinois recovery after pandemic — and residents panic

As we work together to contain the spread of COVID-19, we must also have an open and active conversation about ensuring Illinois’ economic recovery is as strong as possible.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has failed to have “an open conversation” about Illinois economic recovery after the pandemic, writes John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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Illinois has seen a record number of residents file for unemployment in recent weeks. Workers are being furloughed or losing their jobs altogether. Families are worried about making rent and feeding their kids.

As we work together to contain the spread of COVID-19, we must also have an open and active conversation about ensuring Illinois’ economic recovery is as strong as possible. That means establishing a process and timeline to safely and effectively open the economy, so we are not only protecting lives but also safeguarding livelihoods.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker has failed to address Illinois’ broken unemployment system, which has been unable to deliver benefits to people desperate for a lifeline. He has been incapable of cutting through the confusion facing small business owners, gig workers, independent contractors and sole proprietors about the status of their benefits. And on Sunday, after the nation’s top infectious disease expert said some sectors of the economy might be able to start reopening in May, Pritzker finally hinted that the state is thinking about — just thinking about — how to safely get key sectors back online, but that remains a closed conversation.

The uncertainty created by Pritzker’s lack of leadership on these issues is making residents panic. We are hearing from them daily.

We heard from a Morton husband and wife team staring down $46,000 in property tax payments as their tenants can’t make rent.

We heard from an Eldorado trucker who saw his paycheck cut in half, and who wants the progressive income tax hike removed from the ballot for fear it will drive his customers out of state.

We heard from a new Chicago restaurant owner in the South Loop, who started a petition that calls on the governor to fix a loophole in the small business loan program.

Pritzker has said repeatedly that he cannot count on the White House, but he isn’t offering details on recovery solutions of his own. He should follow the example of other states, such as Utah, where state and local governments are putting together their own plans to navigate reopening the economy without prompting a second-wave outbreak. Or the example of New York, which reached out to Google to fix their unemployment system so new federal benefits could reach self-employed workers.

My organization, the Illinois Policy Institute, is the strongest taxpayer advocate network in Illinois. I am proud that we have been able to use our megaphone to make sure the people of Illinois are seen and heard by state and local lawmakers, and we’ve fostered conversations within our community as to what should happen next.

Those conversations are open-minded and productive. The same is not true in Springfield, where so far the only specifics residents have heard in the way of economic problem-solving is pointing the finger at the federal government. In a crisis, strong leaders prove themselves by stepping up and taking action. My organization has commended Pritzker on his efforts to contain the spread of the virus when it was warranted — we understand that public health and people’s lives must always come first.

But we hear almost every day from people struggling to make ends meet, with no money coming in this month or last, and no idea when they’ll be able to work again. So we decided to open up a conversation, asking people what they think and what they’d like their leaders to do.

Instead of offering help to the Illinoisans we highlighted, a spokesperson for the governor proceeded to attack us for providing them a forum.

That is not leadership.

Gov. Pritzker: Uncertainty is the enemy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying and unprecedented time, but that does not excuse defensive leadership that shifts blame. Accountability and openness are needed from those in whom the people have placed their trust — and to be specific, that means public confidence rises when Illinoisans see you and your team are open to ideas and working on a plan and a timeline to get the state back to work.

John Tillman is CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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