GOVERNOR VETOES EMPLOYEE INSURANCE BILL
Governor Pat Quinn has vetoed legislation – Senate Bill 178 – that was a strong response by the General Assembly to the uncertainty that was created by his administration’s abandonment of Health Alliance and Humana as insurance carriers for state employees and retirees.
Senate Bill 178 would move healthcare purchasing back to the Department of Central Management Services and previous agencies. It would also give the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) power over healthcare contracts, allowing COGFA to approve or disapprove healthcare contracts.
My legislative office in Bloomington has had a number of calls about the announcement April 6 that Health Alliance and Humana insurance plans are being dropped as part of the state's group health insurance program. The state employees and retirees who are calling my office are saying how unfair it is, and are questioning why the change was done so secretly, quickly and without the input of the patients who will be affected.
I was one of 34 Senators who sent a letter to the Governor May 6 asking for the “detailed financial information” used in decision to drop Health Alliance and Humana. I also hope to work with my colleagues to override the Governor’s veto.
AUDIT: ILLINOIS HAS LARGEST NET WORTH DEFICIT
A new audit released by the state’s Auditor General shows that Illinois’ net worth deficit is now the largest among all 50 states and the state’s general fund deficit is a record $9.2 billion.
Auditor General William Holland’s report was released July 21, on the heels of the Comptroller’s Fiscal Year 2010 annual report on the state’s finances. Unfortunately, the audit showed that Illinois’ net worth has steadily deteriorated over the last decade, plummeting from negative $12.8 billion in FY 2003 to negative $37.9 billion in FY 2010.
The deficit in the state’s net worth reflects the difference between Illinois’ liabilities and assets. Examining a state’s net worth provides a good picture of its fiscal health. In FY 2010, Gov. Quinn’s first full year in office, the state’s net assets fell $8.4 billion.
The Auditor General was able to compare the state’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 financial statement to all states but Hawaii, which has not yet been released. Illinois was one of only four states with a net worth deficit. However, Illinois had by far the largest deficit, at nearly 10 times the $4.2 billion deficit reported by California and still substantially more than Connecticut’s $13.7 billion deficit and New Jersey’s $28.2 billion deficit.
The audit is one of numerous reports released by both state officials and private entities highlighting the state’s ongoing fiscal problems. In May, Treasurer Dan Rutherford released a report showing state taxpayers’ borrowing debt has jumped to $45 billion—or $24,000 for every Illinois family. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has consistently cautioned that substantial structural budget changes are needed if Illinois is to ever eliminate its massive deficit.
TOLL HIGHWAY SEEKING TOLL INCREASE
The Toll Highway Authority is seeking a toll increase for drivers who use I-Pass. The revenues would finance a $12 billion program to improve and expand Illinois’ suburban Chicago transportation infrastructure.
On July 28, the Tollway Board voted to hold August hearings on the proposed toll hike.
According to the Tollway’s Executive Director, the Authority is seeking to increase the current 40-cent I-Pass passenger-car toll to 75 cents.
Tollway authorities say the increase is necessary to make much-needed improvements to the suburban expressways surrounding Chicago.
There is no proposed hike for commercial vehicles; an increase had already been approved for commercial vehicles that will take effect in 2015. Tollway drivers who pay cash will continue to pay their current rates.
WORK RULE CHANGES FOR MCCORMICK PLACE
Earlier in the week, legislative leaders met with Governor Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to discuss changes to work rules at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center and exhibition facility.
The facility is an economic engine for the state, attracting lucrative trade shows, which create local jobs, and bring in tourism dollars and sales tax revenues. In 2010, lawmakers passed a bipartisan reform package to ease stringent labor rules at McCormick Place after several trade shows left Illinois for more desirable locations, citing the high cost of doing business at the facility.
However, legal challenges have placed the 2010 labor changes in jeopardy. U.S. District and Appeals Courts have sided with labor unions that protested the initial reforms, finding that the law interferes with the negotiating rights of private-sector employees.
In response, state and city leaders are pursing new work rules that would satisfy the legal concerns surrounding the current work rules. State officials are hopeful a compromise can be reached through negotiations with union leaders. However, Gov. Quinn has said that if an agreement cannot be reached, he will call lawmakers back to Springfield in September to pursue revised legislation intended to keep the work rules in place.
State lawmakers, Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel all agree that a compromise on the work rules is important. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), which owns and manages McCormick Place, confirmed that the implementation of the reforms had a tremendously positive impact in ensuring the competitiveness of the facility against similar venues in Orlando and Las Vegas. However, authorities have confirmed that the legal uncertainty surrounding the reforms has already impacted sales at the facility through lost trade show business.
ROAD CONSTRUCTION UPDATES
The Illinois Department of Transportation has announced that, weather permitting; work is scheduled to begin Aug. 1 for safety improvements on I-74, from the Woodford County Line to the northwest side of Normal.
The project will include placing 6.4 miles of high-tension cable median barrier, hot-mix asphalt mowing strip and drainage improvements. The anticipated completion date is Nov. 28, weather permitting.
Motorists are advised to slow down and drive carefully through all work zones.
A reminder—it is illegal in Illinois for drivers to talk on their cell phones while driving through a highway construction zone or school zone. Drivers are also prohibited from writing, sending or reading text messages, instant messages and e-mail, as well as surfing the Web while driving.