For the first time in three years, Illinois suffered a credit downgrade on Thursday, bringing the state’s credit rating down to one notch above junk status in the eyes of Fitch Ratings Inc., matching the longtime ratings from two other major ratings agencies. Meanwhile, out-of-state certified professional midwives are unlikely to be granted temporary licensure in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic, despite expectant mothers looking for ways to give birth at home and away from possible exposure to Covid-19 in a hospital.
- Fitch downgrade — New York-based credit ratings agency Fitch Ratings Inc. downgraded the creditworthiness of Illinois’ general obligation bonds to BBB- with a negative outlook — the lowest rating a bond-issuing entity can receive before its bonds are considered non-investment grade. The move came one day after JB Pritzker revealed the extent to which the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is expected to take on the state’s budget for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year and the 2021 fiscal year, which begins in July. “The downgrade of Illinois’ IDR and GO bond ratings to ‘BBB-’ from ‘BBB’ reflects Fitch’s anticipation of a fundamental weakening of the state’s financial resilience given its already tenuous position entering the current severe downturn,” Fitch said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “While Illinois should avoid any immediate cash flow pressures, the state’s lack of meaningful reserves and the limited nature of other fiscal-management tools at its disposal mean Illinois will be challenged to maintain its investment-grade [issuer default rating].” Illinois already has the lowest credits rating in the nation, Fitch noted, which “have long reflected an ongoing pattern of weak operating performance and irresolute fiscal decision-making” in the state. Fitch last downgraded Illinois’ general obligation bond rating in February of 2017, in the depths of the state’s two-year budget impasse under former Gov. Bruce Rauner. Since then, Illinois’ bonds were considered two notches above junk status by Fitch, while Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s rated Illinois’ creditworthiness as teetering just above junk. Pritzker’s office acknowledged the credit downgrade in a statement Thursday, but said the rating was still investment grade “and by working together, Illinois will get through this crisis and rebuild our economy with new resolve,” a spokesperson said.
- Daily fantasy sports are skill games: Supreme Court — The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the loser of a 2016 game on daily fantasy sports website-turned-sports betting company FanDuel, reasoning that fantasy sports are games of skill, and do not fall under the definition of “gambling” that sometimes saves losers of an illegal wager under one of Illinois’ oldest laws. The Illinois Loss Recovery Act, adopted in 1819 the year after Illinois became a state, does not cover the $109 Colin Dew-Becker lost to Andrew Wu in an April 2016 head-to-head contest using the daily fantasy sports app to bet on NBA players on fantasy teams, the court ruled. The most recent update to the Illinois Loss Recovery Act permits a gambler who lost more than $50 in an illegal game to recover their losses from the winner. Daily fantasy sports wagering operated in a gray area for a few years but was never legalized in Illinois, despite efforts from lawmakers like State Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside). FanDuel and its main competitor, DraftKings, pivoted to sports betting in the last couple of years. Dew-Becker lost both his original case and an appeal because judges found it was necessary for those making an illegal wager to know each other in real life — instead of only through screen names online — in order to apply the Illinois Loss Recovery Act. But the majority of justices on the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday instead focused on daily fantasy sports being a game of skill, and not chance, rejecting the previous legal reasonings but affirming Dew-Becker’s loss.
- Late spring birth prevent sick-leave rollover for teachers — Illinois teachers who give birth toward the end of the school year or during summer break must use their paid maternity leave immediately, and cannot take remaining time when school begins again in the fall, the Illinois Supreme Court ruledThursday after a four-year battle between a suburban teacher and her school district. The court ruled in favor of Wood Dale District 7, which did not allow elementary school teacher Margaret Dynak to use her paid maternity leave for part of the fall semester after giving birth via C-section a day before school let out for summer in June 2016. Instead, Dynak was told that if she wanted to take time off, she had to take unpaid leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which she did. Writing for her colleagues, Chief Justice Anne Burke pointed out that a measure in the Illinois School Code granting 30 days of paid sick leave to male and female teachers for “birth, adoption, or placement for adoption” must be used immediately. “We find the most reasonable and consistent reading of the statute is that it allows an employee who experiences a qualifying event to use accumulated paid sick leave at the time of that event, not later at the employee’s discretion,” Burke wrote.
- Pritzker and the penguins — Gov. JB Pritzker’s office will roll out its latest video in its #AllInIllinois campaign on Friday, this time featuring Chicago’s most famous penguin, Wellington. The 30-year-old rockhopper penguin became a celebrity overnight last month when the Shedd Aquarium, which had voluntarily shut down before Pritzker’s Covid-19 stay-at-home order took effect, began posting videos on social media of its resident penguins touring parts of the museum they would normally never get to see, and meeting wildlife from all over the world. Pritzker’s #AllInIllinois campaign to encourage Illinoisans to social distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by remaining in their own homes launched earlier this month, with dozens of celebrities with Land of Lincoln roots posting short videos with encouraging words for Illinois. The governor filmed the 60-second social media spot at the Shedd Aquarium on April 5, walking in line with penguins and encouraging them to stay six feet apart.