State Sen. DeWitte predicts talk of air travel ban, severe state spending cuts

State Sen. Don DeWitte eased some of the COVID-19 concerns expressed by local business owners Thursday but warned income losses at the state level will have long-term effects that will get worse the longer the outbreak endures.

DeWitte joined about 30 representatives of the northern Kane County business community on a video chat to help direct them to financial assistance now coming available through the state and the federal government.

The St. Charles Republican pointed to a series of grants and low-interest loans ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 each that Illinois will award to businesses of fewer than 50 employees through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Applications will be available on the department's website for small business owners to access funds to help with payroll, rent, job training and costs associated with, for instance, converting from a dine-in restaurant to a meal delivery service.

At the federal level, DeWitte said Illinois will get nearly $5 billion in coronavirus relief funding. About $2.2 billion of that is earmarked for local governments. There will also be additional federal money for schools, deployment of the national guard, local health departments, election authorities and mass transit.

But if that's the only money that comes to Illinois, it won't be enough to stave off major spending cuts in the state budget lawmakers will debate in the eventual spring session, DeWitte said. He's part of a team of about 20 state lawmakers meeting with the Illinois Department of Revenue to determine a budget framework based on already millions of lost income.

"If this is a 30-, 60-, 90-day issue, that's going to be a whole lot easier to deal with than a 120-, 180-day issue," DeWitte said. "God forbid it extends even into the remainder of the year. It is a serious chore to weigh the revenue losses with required expenditures in a state that is already in deep financial straits."

The state is losing, for example, $40 million per month on lost video gambling revenue, DeWitte said. That's on top of catastrophic losses of taxes from casinos, bars and restaurants throughout the state.

Still, DeWitte praised Gov. J.B. Pritzker and said he supports the stay-at-home order for as long as it takes to see the rate of infections flatten.

But that will make for many uncomfortable conversations and decisions, he said. The state budget may be the only thing the legislature passes in the spring session, even that may require allowing lawmakers to enter chambers 10 at a time to vote, he said.

He also expects to hear discussions of air travel bans and conflicting debates about how to best enforce the stay-at-home order.

For example, while places like Chicago and Aurora are now starting to ticket people and nonessential businesses violating the order, there was already a discussion Thursday about how to address downstate requests to reopen state parks.

So far, DeWitte said, there are no state-level talks about additional enforcement or more severe forms of quarantine.

"We'll just have to wait to see how the current shelter-in-place order works," DeWitte said. "I think those areas that show they need stronger enforcement will implement it. At the same time, people who feel they don't require that extent of enforcement are going to be asking for some of those restrictions to be lifted."

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