SPRINGFIELD – The Senate unanimously advanced on April 22 two bipartisan measures to bridge funding for higher education and critical human services. While Senate Republican lawmakers noted the proposals aren’t perfect solutions, they stressed the legislation includes the money necessary to finance the spending—a “reset” in budgeting that is much-needed in Illinois.
The need for institutional reforms in Illinois was reinforced earlier in the week, when anti-violence programs administered by former Gov. Pat Quinn were once again the subject of a critical audit. Additionally, overpayments to local governments and schools that occurred under the Quinn Administration have some Senate Republican lawmakers questioning whether the $168 million in overpayments were the product of incompetence, or a deliberate effort by Quinn to funnel money to Chicago during an election year.
Even as these reports surfaced, several “good-government” reforms – any of which could be the important first step in changing the course of Illinois – were blocked during the week by partisan maneuvering. Instead, Senate Democrat lawmakers passed one constitutional amendment to change legislative and congressional districts, over Senate GOP objections that the proposal still allows politicians to draw their own districts.
Senate advances stop-gap funding for higher education and human services
On April 22, the House and the Senate approved a bipartisan, bicameral solution for funding higher education that was the result of cooperation and productive conversation between rank-and-file legislators, legislative leaders and the Governor’s Administration.
The Governor has indicated he will sign the stop-gap funding bill for higher education, which will help universities, colleges and community colleges remain operational through September, at which point they’ll start collecting their fall tuition money.
Senate Republicans stressed that the budget measure is fully funded—not a false promise like other bills offered by Democrat lawmakers in the past. The funding will serve as a bridge while lawmakers continue working on a full budget for the fiscal year. The challenges aren’t over, but legislators from both parties noted the agreement is indicative of an interest from Illinois’ leaders to resolve the state’s issues.
Senate Bill 2059 contains funding from the Education Assistance Fund. Community colleges will receive more than $74 million; funding for MAP grants tops $169 million; and the Math and Science Academy will receive $6 million.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 2047, which appropriates $600 million from the Education Assistance Fund to higher education and $441 million from the Commitment to Human Service Fund to help pay for critical human service programs. This proposal is currently pending in the Illinois House of Representatives.
‘Significant breakdowns’ within Quinn’s anti-violence initiative
A recent audit revealed $2.2 million in unrecovered grant dollars associated with several programs created during the Quinn Administration that were intended to help combat violence. Senate Republicans noted that this type of abuse, mismanagement and lack of oversight in state government underscore the need for reform and change in how Illinois operates.
The audit determined high-ranking Quinn officials made decisions on what communities and grantees would receive funding as part of the program, but provided no data to support how grantees or funding were selected. According to Auditor General Frank Mautino, it’s difficult to determine whether the Quinn program “achieved the goals that it was supposed to do.” The Auditor General noted there were “significant breakdowns” in the process of distributing and managing grant dollars during the third and fourth years of spending associated with the programs.
A review of the programs overseen by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) noted the Quinn Administration repeatedly parted with grant protocol when distributing grant funds through the program, and failed to adequately oversee how those monies were spent.
The audit also cited problems with how contracts were executed, noted that often the financial information provided didn’t match up with supplementary documentation, and also stressed that millions of dollars in unspent funds associated with the programs have not been recovered.
Of note, 41 organizations were selected to receive part of the $1.7 million for the Department of Human Services’ Summer Youth Jobs Program, but it is not clear how those agencies/organizations and funding levels were selected.
Additionally, the audit pointed out that a “misunderstanding” by ICJIA officials resulted in $7.3 million in intergovernmental transfers being directed to ICJIA for Quinn’s programs from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program and the Comprehensive Community-based Services to Youth programs.
The current director of ICJIA has accepted the findings and issued a statement noting that the Authority is working to resolve those issues.
Criticism and confusion have surrounded Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative for years. A previous audit found similar instances of mismanagement, lack of oversight and serious abuse within the program, which prompted an investigation by the Legislative Audit Commission.
Additionally, at least three grand jury subpoenas were filed on the program—two from US Attorney’s offices in Chicago and Springfield, and one from the Cook County State’s Attorney.
Overpayments by Quinn Administration raise questions
During Fiscal Year 2014, former Governor Quinn’s Administration overpaid at least $168 million in Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT) payments to thousands of local governments and schools, according to data recently uncovered by the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR).
Senate Republican lawmakers have questioned whether the overpayments reflect mere incompetence, or a deliberate effort by the Quinn Administration to funnel money to Chicago during an election year. A review of overpayments revealed more than $23 million was directed to Chicago schools and almost $20 million to the City of Chicago.
Regardless of why the overpayments occurred, communities and school districts across the state will be asked to repay that funding—an expense that has many concerned. As the Department works to recoup the misallocated funds, the Rauner Administration is sensitive to the impact this will have on local governments and schools. According to Connie Beard, IDOR Director, “We will be working with the impacted taxing districts to establish a plan to recapture the funds over an extended period of time.”
The overpayments appear to have been caused following a switch to new reporting forms. According to IDOR, the issue was discovered during the agency’s implementation of a new general ledger system. Ten taxing districts received overpayments of more than $1 million. Most were much smaller, including 5,291 taxing districts that received less than $10,000 in overpayments.
Powerful tool of change being abused
The Senate this week advanced one amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would change the process of drawing the state’s legislative and congressional district lines, though Republican lawmakers pointed out the measure, SJRCA 30, still gives politicians the power to draw their own political boundaries. Senate Republicans contend that the process of drawing legislative districts should be handed over to a non-partisan, independent body—a critical provision not included in SJRCA 30.
However, a Republican proposal that would strip the Legislature of the direct power to draw districts in Illinois, was one of a number of constitutional amendments sponsored by Republican Senators that were not allowed a hearing or vote by lawmakers this week. Additionally, constitutional amendments were stalled that would have established terms limits for state lawmakers; increase votes needed to pass legislation during a “lame-duck session,” which is the time period after an election and before a new General Assembly begins; and set term limits for constitutional offers.
Two additional amendments to the constitution pending before the Senate failed to advance for consideration by voters on the November General Election Ballot. SJRCA 1 would have allowed the state to move from a “flat” tax rate to a “graduated” income tax and SJRCA 29 would have eliminated the Lt. Governor’s office.
Some additional legislation approved by Senate lawmakers during the week includes:
Athlete Campus Demonstrations (SB 2279): States that every institution that is approved by ISAC for the Monetary Award Program must be subject to the Campus Demonstrations Policy Act, which requires the institution to maintain an outline of rules and regulations to maintain order on campus during a demonstration. The Policy on Demonstrations must include a statement declaring that a student-athlete’s scholarship may not be reduced or revoked as a result of the student-athlete’s participation in or expression of their First Amendment Rights.
3D Mammograms (SB 466): Requires the state to begin an insurance mandate to cover 3D mammography on July 1, 2016.
Sepsis Screening and Gabby’s Law (SB 2403): Requires hospitals to implement evidence based protocols for early recognition and treatments of patients with sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock. The requirements for caring for children with sepsis may differ from adults. This will be known as Gabby’s Law in memory of Gabby Gallo from Monticello. Ms. Gallo passed away due to complications from sepsis.
No Tax on Feminine Hygiene Products (SB 2746): Exempts tampons and menstrual pads and cups from the sales tax.
Police Dog Retirement Act (SB 3129): Allows a police dog that is in use by a county, municipal, or state law enforcement agency and is deemed no longer fit for public service to be offered to the officer or employee who had custody during its service.
EMT’s Epinephrine Administering Act (SB 3335): Authorizes EMT-Basics, EMT-Intermediates, Advanced EMTs and EMT-Paramedics to administer Epinephrine drawn from a glass vial, using a syringe, as opposed to using a pre-filled epinephrine auto-injector, such as an Epi-Pen, once the individual completes a department approved course.
Parolee State ID Card (SB 3368): Requires the Secretary of State to issue a standard Illinois Identification Card at the time of release to all eligible individuals on parole, mandatory supervised release, aftercare release, final discharge, or pardon from the Department of Corrections (DOC) or Department of Juvenile Justice. Further requires the DOC to verify a released person’s name, date of birth and Social Security number, and provide that information to the Secretary of State for use in issuing an identification card to the released person either by obtaining a certified copy of the released person’s birth certificate and his or her Social Security card, or a Secretary of State form that will be designed to allow the parolee 90 days to supply their birth certificate or Social Security card.
Veterans Court Treatment Act (SB 3401): Authorizes an alternative court program to provide alternatives for veterans, including treatment for mental health issues and or addiction issues.
Cannabis Decriminalization (SB 2228): Reduces penalties for those caught in position of small amounts of cannabis, as part of an effort to reduce prison populations and what some say are overly punitive penalties for those convicted of cannabis possession. Makes possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $200. The civil offense is automatically expunged to prevent a permanent criminal record. Establishes a per se standard for Cannabis-DUI of 5 nano/decil of blood or 10 nano/decil of saliva in system. Allows for alternative ways to test for cannabis DUI using “any bodily substance” (including saliva) for testing. This is an expansion from current law of breath, blood, and urine. Creates a new Class 2 felony for manufacturing Butane Hash Oil.