Catching Up with Coffey


Moody’s adds “positive” outlook to State of Illinois credit rating of A3. This moves Illinois further away from “junk bond” territory. However, Illinois debts continue to have a lower credit rating than the debts issued by most U.S. states. Illinois taxpayers continue to be required to pay higher interest rates than most other states on the debts sold to rebuild public roads, bridges, and infrastructure. This is an increasing concern in a time of rising worldwide interest rates.

Moody’s now has a “positive” outlook on Illinois general obligation (GO) debt, but the debt continues to be ranked within its lowest “A” level, A3. The credit rating firm attributed this positive outlook to the State’s conservative revenue assumptions and a stream of new cash flow from the legalization of sports betting. Moody’s had previously rated Illinois GO debt at Baa1, the highest “B” level. All debt below “Baa3” is considered junk debt by the credit rating services. Junk debt, a category applied to debts in danger of default, typically demands high premiums in the marketplace. Many pension funds and other savings pathways are legally barred or severely discouraged from making long-term investments in junk debt. Illinois barely escaped the “junk bond” category during a recent period that ended in 2021.

“Build Illinois” debt, which is a separate category of Illinois debt that contains close legal and cash-flow ties to GO debt, has also been raised by Moody’s to A3. Illinois has many categories of debts and unfunded pension obligations. The total State debt load borne by Illinois taxpayers, including unfunded pension liabilities, is well in excess of $200 billion – more than $20,000 per Illinois resident. Moody’s “positive” credit rating move was published on Tuesday, April 14.

The estimated cost of new Chicago Bears lakefront stadium is $4.6 billionIn a stadium proposal presented to Chicago by Bears ownership this week, the domed, enclosed stadium would be built on the current site of historic Soldier Field, which would be almost entirely demolished. With 365-day operating ability, the proposed indoor stadium could be used for large U.S. sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four Tournament. The Bears released a series of computer-generated conceptual illustrations and animations to show what they hope the new stadium would look like.

Bears ownership say that, if given a green light to do so, they would have the capacity to organize up to $2.3 billion in private capital for investment in the proposed development. This would include not only money from Bears ownership but also funds derived from long-term advance ticket purchases by fans, contributions from the NFL, payments from future stadium concessioners, and (presumably) a hefty stadium naming fee. The current Chicago tribute to U.S. armed forces and their veterans, symbolized by the name “Soldier Field” borne by the current stadium, might well disappear along with the old field.

The April 2024 Chicago lakefront stadium proposal includes a request that public funding provide an additional $2.3 billion to the $4.6 billion development. Of this sum, $900 million would be used to complete the build-out of the $3.2 billion stadium itself, and $1.4 billion would be required for what is described as infrastructure improvements around and outside the stadium. The proposed location is highly sensitive to development, with a crowded highway (DuSable-Lake Shore Drive) only feet away. Much of the infrastructure funds would be used to build a large railway station, with associated sports-themed development, on the other side of the highway from the new stadium.

The city of Chicago and the Illinois Sports Facility Authority already owe debts of $640 million for the existing Soldier Field, a stadium structure that was renovated in 2002-2003. Illinois House Republicans did not participate in the new Bears stadium proposal’s unveiling and did not make any commitment to it. The proposal was unveiled on Wednesday, April 24.


Opposition to legislation targeting 14(c) workers grows. Since 1938, the United States Department of Labor has provided opportunities through Section 14(c) certificates to provide every American with a chance to work. These certificates allow employers to hire intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals at wages below the federal minimum and set up “workshops” to provide support for these workers. Despite the incredible strides our nation has made to promote inclusivity and dignity in the workplace for Americans with disabilities, new legislation in Illinois threatens to eliminate these programs entirely. As a result, many concerned legislators are speaking out.

In the 2023 spring legislative session, HB 793, sponsored by Rep. Theresa Mah, was first heard on the House Floor. The bill, titled the “Dignity in Pay Act”, contained several provisions; most prominently, text that would end the issuing of Section 14(c) certificates to employers. Rep. Mah and several other legislators have suggested that, instead of supporting the 14(c) programs cherished by so many disabled workers, these programs should be eliminated and employers should be required to pay workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities according to normal minimum wage standards.

The issue with forcing programs that hire individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to pay them a minimum wage is that it is not economically feasible. “A lot of the workers work at 12% of what a normal worker works. In a 10-hour time, they’ll pay that worker $140 where one college student could do that same work in 1 hour,” said Representative Charlie Meier. Rep. Meier, who has long been an advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has highlighted that requiring minimum wage pay would ultimately harm workers with these disabilities. “There are 3,591 clients, we believe, in the state of Illinois. Where this has been done in other states, a lot of times, 70 to 80% of these residents never work again.”

Rep. Meier’s claims are substantially supported by research done at the federal level. When analyzing SB 2488, legislation proposed at the federal level intended to eliminate 14(c) certificates, the Congressional Budget Office stated that “larger mandated wage increases would cause larger increases in joblessness. The increase in joblessness might also be relatively large because the disabled workers affected by this section are less productive.”

Opponents of 14(c) programs often insist that expensive day programs are better alternatives for adults with these disabilities and cite that the programs have job trainers to help disabled individuals find work. However, despite promoting these programs, Illinois has cut the number of job trainers in recent years by nearly 14% according to Rep. Meier. Moreover, the Illinoisans who would be funneled into these day programs would much rather stay where they are. “They don’t want a day program five days a week,” said Rep. Meier. “They want to work. They want to be proud of their jobs.”

State Representative Mike Coffey also advocates for 14(c) workers and said this bill would create lost jobs, lost opportunities, and put service providers out of work.

“While this bill sounds good in theory, it would ultimately lead to individuals losing their job and having zero income,” said Rep. Coffey. “Service providers do a fantastic job, but many of them would be unable to pay minimum wage to their employees if this bill is passed. Protecting our job force should be a priority and this bill does the opposite.”

Listen to Rep. Coffey address his concerns over HB 793

House Bill 793, if passed, would also negatively impact disabled workers who do find themselves working minimum wage jobs. Many workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If these workers are paid a standard wage, they could lose a percentage of their supplemental income. If they quit or lose their job, they would have to start over with the Social Security Administration to have their benefits reinstated, a process that typically takes 6 to 9 months according to Rep. Meier.

While earning a wage for one’s work is important, many advocates of 14(c) workshops cite that the benefits they provide are often less tangible. These workshops allow intellectually and developmentally disabled people to gain useful skills, learn how to be independent, and most importantly, feel a sense of purpose, belonging, and accomplishment. “They need to see how happy our clients are; how proud they are,” said Rep. Meier. “They’re trying to take this away from them.


Illinois metro area unemployment rates in March 2024. The overall unadjusted Illinois unemployment rate for the recently concluded month was 5.0%, which was up 0.7%, on a year-over-year basis, from the 4.3% unadjusted number posted in March 2023.

The total number of payroll jobs counted in this table of job statistics is almost flat. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) counted 6,056,100 Illinois nonfarm payroll jobs in March 2023, and counted 6,071,300 jobs in the same category in March 2024 (+0.25%). The primary driver of the increased unemployment number posted for March 2024 by this counting metric was the entry (or post-COVID reentry) of tens of thousands of Illinois residents into the job market. IDES operates a webpage,, to help Illinois job seekers match their skill sets with Illinois opportunities and job postings.

In some metro areas within Illinois, the March 2024 unemployment rate was significantly higher than the statewide average of 5.0%. These numbers were 6.2% in Decatur, 6.1% in Elgin, and 6.7% in Rockford. In the key Chicago-Naperville market, which includes DuPage County but not Kane County or Lake County, this rate was 4.7% in March 2024.


Nonpartisan Tax Foundation pinpoints heavy tax burden in Illinois. The database operated by the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation aggregates together the state and local income, sales, and property taxes paid in all 50 states. These numbers have been compiled into a 50-state chart, “State-Local Tax Burdens by State, Calendar Year 2022” that sets forth a total number (Illinois – 12.9%) that represents the percentage paid by Illinois incomes in taxes. Because of the significant quantity of data crunched to demonstrate this chart, calendar year 2022 incomes and taxation are represented for a chart published in April 2024.

Illinois has by far the heaviest tax burden of any of the Midwestern states. At 12.9%, it is well above all its neighboring states. The only state that approaches Illinois’ tax burden within the Midwest is Minnesota, with a 12.1% tax burden. Illinois’ tax burden is also well above all the burdens borne by all the Southern states, the states of the Great Plains, the Southwest, and the Rocky Mountains. Illinois’ status as the 44th-worst state in terms of tax burdens is exceeded by only six other states. All of them are on the West and East Coasts, with New York (15.9%) as state #50.


Once-in-a-lifetime cicada emergence comes closer. A North American sap-eating insect, the cicada, has sorted itself out into broods that hibernate for more than a decade. When they emerge after their long sleep, hundreds of billions of cicadas will drink more tree sap, chirp loudly, mate, lay eggs, and their life cycles will come to an end. Researchers have charted the 13-year and 17-year cycles of broods across the eastern United States, including Illinois. Northern Illinois will be a particular focus of the cicada emergence.

In a mathematically unusual event, in 2024, a 13-year cycle and a 17-year cycle will come together. The emergence of these two broods will generate a paradise of insect life and noise throughout many of Illinois’ forests and woodlands. The last time these two groups of cicadas came out together was in May 1803, as Meriwether Lewis was gathering instruments and gear for his approaching expedition to the West. As 1803 came to an end, the government of the United States bought the Missouri Territory from Spain and France; Lewis and partner William Clark were settling down to their encampment near Wood River, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from the new land they would begin to explore; and batches of cicada eggs and insect young were settling down near Illinois’ woody rivers for another set of cycles that would go on for another 221 years. Their 2024 re-emergence is scheduled to begin in the closing days of April, with a climax in the Chicago area around May 15.