GROWMARK officials Dan Vest, Dennis Farmer, Jane Wolschlag and Dan Maggart from McLean and Piatt counties stopped by my office in the State Capitol Building March 28 as part of the annual Illinois Ag/FFA Legislative Day activities in Springfield. GROWMARK System is a network of agricultural cooperatives focused on providing the products and services needed to create solutions to farmers’ and other customers’ unique challenges.
Also on March 28, Jacob Gleason, a senior at Morton High School, served as a legislative page for me in the Senate. He is the son of Tim and Chris Gleason.
STATE OFFICIALS PASS THE BUCK DURING REVIEW OF D.H.F.S. AUDIT
Illinois lawmakers wanting to know who was accountable for mistakes made in awarding health insurance contracts heard Administration officials pass the buck – rather, 6.6 billion bucks – during a meeting March 29 of the Legislative Audit Commission.
This is a nearly $7 billion procurement that deals with the healthcare of the people who work for the state, and have worked for the stated. The Governor and his Office of Management and Budget have questions they need to answer about why certain memos were ignored and why they continued along a line that cost the state money and put at risk the people who depend on state health insurance.
A March 8 report by State Auditor General Bill Holland blasted the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) for its handling last year of a five-year, $6.6 billion contract to the state’s largest insurer to administer HMO plans for state employees.
After reviewing the Auditor General’s report earlier this month, I immediately asked my fellow Legislative Audit Commission members to convene a meeting to address the apparent failure of the current Administration to comply with the procurement code and provisions of the Ethics Commission.
During the March 29 hearing, we asked DHFS officials what had gone wrong during the process of selecting vendors for state-administered HMO and OAP insurance coverage. During the discussion, it became evident that different officials had different interpretations of the Illinois law detailing oversight of the procurement process.
Unfortunately, what we heard boiled down to state officials passing the buck. Neither DHFS nor the Executive Ethics Commission seems to be clear on who has the ultimate authority and responsibility for the mistakes made in this very important process, which affects thousands of state employees.
I will continue to work with legislative leaders, my Audit Commission colleagues, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and the Executive Ethics Commission to clarify the statutes and improve the process by which vendors are selected.
Clearly, things were done wrong. There are a lot of issues that remain to be resolved, some statutory, so this does not happen again. We will continue to monitor this process and find the circumstances that need to be addressed.
BRADY’S BILL ENHANCES GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY
Providing Illinois citizens with more information about state government is the aim of legislation I sponsored.
Passed by the Senate March 29, Senate Bill 3682 calls for greater transparency via direct citizen access to an Internet database about state jobs. The bill amends the Central Management Services Law to enhance the direct access and types of information available to the general public on the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal.
After years of corruption and fiscal management, Illinois citizens have every right to be skeptical of state government. Making this information available will allow them to see for themselves where their tax dollars are being spent. Such knowledge could be an excellent catalyst for change.
The information available would include: name; employing state agency; employing state division; employment position title; current pay rate and year-to-date pay; county of employment location; Rutan status; status of position as subject to collective bargaining, subject to merit compensation, or exempt under Section 4d of the Personnel Code; employment status as probationary, trainee, intern, certified, or exempt from certification; and status as a military veteran.
Approved by a 56-0 vote, Senate Bill 3682 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
REPORT: ILLINOIS HAS SECOND-HIGHEST DEBT
A new report by Fitch Ratings shows that as a percentage of residents’ income, Illinois state government has the second-highest debt in the nation.
Illinois’ public debt represents 25 percent of Illinois residents’ annual income. Only Hawaii, with a debt that equals 25.8 percent of annual income surpasses Illinois. The third-highest debtor state is Connecticut at 22.9 percent.
Illinois’ debt-to-income ratio is more than three and a half times higher than the national average of 6.9 percent. Illinois is alone in the nation with its combination of high debt and poor credit rating.
Fitch Ratings calculates that Illinois taxpayers owe $134 billion, including $101 billion in pension debt and $33 billion in other state government debt. The Fitch calculation does not include Illinois’ sizable backlog of bills, which is about $8.5 billion according to the Illinois Comptroller and would drive the total debt even higher if included. The non-partisan Civic Federation has estimated that that bill backlog alone will climb to about $35 billion within five years.
The state with the lowest debt-to-income ratio is Tennessee, where state government owes debt equal to just 2 percent of residents’ annual income.
Illinois fares far worse than most of its fellow large states. California, whose credit rating shares the bottom of the nation with Illinois, has a significantly lower debt-to-income ratio of 8.9 percent. Among the 10 most populous states in the nation, Illinois is the only state with a debt-to-income ratio greater than 10 percent.
Illinois’ non-pension debt is 6.2 percent of personal income, while the pension debt is 18.8 percent of personal income.