Harris was particularly proud of the State’s fiscal stability. “We’ve made great strides. That isn’t to say we don’t have a long way to go, but we’ve made great strides.” For example, the state’s backlog of unpaid bills is down from $17 billion to $3 billion, and most bills are paid within 30 days. The State of Illinois has also paid a significant amount of federal debt and is making its pension payments in full. Just days prior to his remarks, Moody’s and Standard and Poor gave the state credit upgrades for the first time in a quarter century. “By doing these things we increased the structural position of the state by about a billion dollars a year for the next two fiscal years. It’s been a very good year fiscally and we’ve made a lot of progress in righting our fiscal situation."
Turning to health matters Harris remarked that Governor Pritzker made decisions based on science, which has led to a low positivity rate of 1.7%. Harris was proud that Illinois was one of the few states that exceeded President Biden’s goal of vaccination. Speaking of business closures and the impact it had on the economy Harris said, “We saved a lot of lives in Illinois. Our hospitals were not overrun; our morgues were not overflowing. To me saving those lives was very important.” Harris acknowledged the affect this had on many businesses but was confident history will judge that Illinois made the right decisions, especially compared to other states where the pandemic is still surging.
Harris also listed a multitude of programs that benefited from funding increases such as mental health and substance abuse, first responders, violence prevention funding, programs for teens, rental and mortgage assistance, a new class of State Police, foster families, healthcare workforce, business interruption grants, as well as investing in the State’s hospitality and tourism industry. Harris also said there has been a lot of work to provide technical assistance to smaller community-based organizations that need help in accessing funding for their programming. According to Harris there also has been significant investments in education funding to reduce the reliance on property tax funding.
A passion of Leader Harris has been improving the State’s healthcare system, and the pandemic brought the need for those reforms to the forefront of the General Assembly's attention. He said, “Studies show that within just a couple miles away from downtown life expectancy can be seven to ten years different due to a lot of social issues but also access to healthcare.” Harris detailed a lot of recent policy work such as allowing telehealth to continue and to allow healthcare providers to seek reimbursement for those services, and limiting prior-authorization requirements by insurance companies. He also detailed recent prescription drug reform, and increasing wages for home and senior healthcare workers to stay competitive for talent.
Harris spoke of his responsibility to manage the election for a new Illinois Speaker and discussed how it was an unfortunate distraction from focusing on the very real issues related to the pandemic, but was extremely proud of the process the House Democrats used and enjoys working with newly elected Speaker Welch. On a lighter note, when asked why he was chosen for this important task he joked, “Because I know how to count to 60!”