At issue is the effort by majority Democrats in the Senate to add nearly a half-billion dollars to the state budget by filing a hostile amendment to House Bill 2189, the annual construction and road appropriation.
In the House, Speaker Michael Madigan refused to accept the Senate add-ons and sent the measure back to the Senate asking that body to “recede” or withdraw from the hostile amendment.
Although the Speaker’s request was received in the Senate before that chamber adjourned, no motion to remove the add-on spending was filed, and the Senate adjourned without taking up the proposal. That left the state’s annual road and capital construction program without the legal authority it needs to proceed.
The construction program is the least controversial portion of the state budget, and Senate Republicans will work with their House colleagues from both parties to get the unrelated spending removed so that a “clean” construction program can be approved.
MORE SCRUTINY OF COLLEGE ILLINOIS!
Also during the week, press reports reveal that College Illinois! is under investigation by the Attorney General’s office. The state’s prepaid tuition program has been placed under the microscope after troubling reports of fiscal mismanagement and risky investments were made public.
The Attorney General joins the Auditor General and state lawmakers in probing the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), which runs the College Illinois! program. In late May, House and Senate lawmakers called for an overhaul of the College Illinois! program, with both chambers filing resolutions urging administration of the program to be moved from ISAC to the Comptroller’s Office.
A report in Crain’s Chicago Business speculates that the Attorney General’s office may be reviewing ISAC’s College Illinois! marketing plan, which has advertised the program as a risk-free, worry-free college savings option. However, because the state makes no assurance that the prepaid contracts will be honored if the program revenues are unavailable, program critics contend the advertisements for College Illinois! were inaccurate and deceptive.
Recently, State Auditor Bill Holland’s office revealed that College Illinois! is running a deficit of $300 million—the most substantial financial shortfall of any prepaid tuition plan in the nation. A recent audit also found that College Illinois! employees chose to invest funds in an enterprise that was flagged as risky; ultimately the bank failed and the investment—more than $12 million—was lost.
To make matters even worse, Crain’s recently revealed that the former ISAC executive director invested College Illinois! money in funds run by friends and past associates, and that ISAC didn’t properly scrutinize those investment practices.
Since the problems at the agency were made public, sales of College Illinois! plans have dropped substantially. The Chicago Tribune reported that since November almost 840 new contracts were opened, with only 41 in May, even though ISAC predicted there would be approximately 3,500 contracts sold in 2011. Since last July, there had been 1,244 College Illinois! cancellations (as of May), compared to 953 cancellations the previous year.
INSURANCE PROVIDERS GO TO COURT
Also during the week, Health Alliance and Humana filed lawsuits in an effort to require Illinois to re-bid its health insurance provider contract for state employees, retirees, and dependents.
The state’s announced switch to Blue Cross/Blue Shield has sparked an outcry from a number of downstate residents, many of whom have concerns about the quality and continuity of the health care they’ll receive under the new plan.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services has estimated that switching to Blue Cross/Blue Shield could save more than $100 million annually, and reach $1 billion in savings over 10 years. However, Health Alliance and Humana dispute those numbers, contending that moving to Blue Cross/Blue Shield will actually cost the state millions.
In late May, a majority of members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), a bipartisan legislative oversight panel, voted on a resolution to withdraw COGFA’s advice-and-consent on the state’s policy of self-insuring.
Though the Commission members do not have authority to block the contract, the move was an attempt to force the state to rebid the contract. However, Quinn Administration officials pointed to a legal opinion by the Attorney General that they say nullifies COGFA’s resolution, and on May 25 the Executive Ethics Commission publicly announced that the state will move forward with the plan, despite legislative and public protests.
Health Alliance and Humana contend that disregarding COGFA’s recommendation is illegal. Noting that a legal decision in the case could take months, or possibly years, the companies requested a Sangamon County Associate Judge take immediate action to halt the transition and rescind the contract award to Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
A judicial order could halt the ongoing benefits enrollment period that is open to state employees and retirees until June 17. Additionally, the judge could extend the current state contracts with Health Alliance and Humana.
ROAD CONSTRUCTION UPDATES
The Illinois Department of Transportation has announced that, weather permitting; work is scheduled to begin June 13 for the placement of rumble strips into existing shoulders on I-55 at 2 locations from the Logan Co Line to southwest of Bloomington and from northwest of Normal to the Lexington interchange.
The anticipated completion date is June 24, 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.
REGISTER FOR SMALL-BUSINESS TAX CREDIT BY JUNE 30
Changes have been made to the Illinois Small Business Job Creation Tax Credit, which will make your business eligible to receive a tax credit if you hire your worker-trainees into full-time positions before June 30, no matter what size of business you operate.
Remember that tax credit eligibility begins with the date of hire and registration for the credit may be made at any time up until June 30, 2011.
For more information, go to http://jobstaxcredit.illinois.gov/.