The worst aspects of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget plan include:
• A spending increase of $1.6 billion MORE than last fiscal year.
• No action on a $6 billion backlog of unpaid bills; instead, pushing them into the next budget year.
• More than $6.1 billion of additional borrowing, from a variety of sources: a tax amnesty program, increased cigarette taxes, borrowing or skipping $3.7 billion in pension payments, borrowing $1.2 billion against the national tobacco settlement fund, and raiding dedicated funds.
• Delaying payments to state vendors even longer.
• Providing extraordinary powers to Governor Quinn to cut spending or withhold funding to state agencies and programs, as he sees fit.
Neither the Senate nor the House have been in Springfield since May 7.
Fiscal Year 2011 runs from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011.
AUDITOR GENERAL CRITICIZES ‘ALL KIDS’ PROGRAM
The Auditor General released a highly critical audit of Illinois’ All Kids health insurance program this week.
The audit revealed mismanagement and administrative discrepancies, which may have cost taxpayers dearly. Though the report didn’t speculate on the amount of money lost to negligence and program inconsistencies, the audit found:
• Children have been receiving All Kids benefits beyond the cut-off age;
• Illinois residency requirements are not being verified;
• Undocumented immigrants are not being required to provide birth or identity documentation, making it difficult to verify age requirements or confirm the child’s identity;
• Inconsistent income documentation and income verification procedures made it impossible to determine whether eligibility was determined correctly;
• Incorrect data reports relating to the classification of undocumented immigrants have led to the loss of federal matching funds; and
• All Kids coverage is not being terminated when enrollees fail to pay premiums.
The audit also revealed that the state has spent $8 million on marketing All Kids to increase program enrollment. Initially, the total cost of marketing the program was estimated to be $3 million. According to the audit, there is no documentation to show why such an increase was necessary or justified.
Implemented in 2006 under former Governor Rod Blagojevich, the All Kids program guaranteed health insurance to all children in Illinois. Republican lawmakers at the time predicted the program would be costly, and suggested that stricter regulations be established.
For years, Senate GOP lawmakers have advocated for increased income verification standards. Currently, only one pay stub is required from program applicants, which was criticized in the audit as a poor representation of actual income. Senate Republicans have regularly introduced legislation that would require at least two consecutive pay stubs be required to determine eligibility.
Republicans have also encouraged the implementation of asset testing for All Kids applicants, much like those required from senior citizens and people with disabilities. These populations are required to meet asset tests for eligibility when applying for taxpayer-paid assistance.
Likewise, the Senate Republican Caucus has consistently said that it is unfair that senior citizens and people with disabilities must provide verification of their immigrant status, but other populations are excused from this federal requirement. All Kids participants should provide information about immigrant status, which is a standard already in place for other Medicaid-eligible groups. Not only would this put All Kids on a level playing field with other Medicaid-eligible populations, but the state would have a greater chance of receiving a federal match for the children enrolled.
QUINN VETOES CHANGES TO SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Also this week, Governor Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have imposed minor restrictions on the General Assembly scholarship program.
Senate Bill 365 would have prevented a lawmaker from giving the scholarship to a student if an immediate family member has contributed campaign funds to that lawmaker during that calendar year, or any of the previous five calendar years. For lawmakers uncomfortable with the scholarship program, the legislation would have allowed them to forgo participation in the program.
Though Republican lawmakers voted for the legislation, they did so only after majority Democrats had blocked Republican-sponsored legislation to completely eliminate the program (SB 3652). Republicans noted that Quinn did not weigh in during the legislative debate, but instead waited until his party had killed the stronger reform bill and lawmakers had left town.
A number of legislators from both parties insisted that because legislators can award scholarships to whomever they want, with little oversight, the scholarship program can be used as a way to reward political donors and other influential supporters.
Additionally, the colleges must absorb the cost of the legislative scholarship program, which amounts to upward of $12 million, or pass the cost of the program on to other students through increased tuition or fees.
Governor Quinn vetoed Senate Bill 365, saying the program should be eliminated all together. Despite the problems inherent within the scholarship program, if Senate Bill 365 had been signed into law, it would have been a small step towards curtailing some abuses associated with the program.
As of now, the status quo prevails.