State Week: Radogno Resigns And Still No Budget

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Illinois is beginning a third straight year without a real budget. Legislators say they’re close to a deal and continue to negotiate — but is that for real or just for show?

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont announced she’s resigning effective Saturday. She instigated the effort at bipartisan compromise that became known as the “grand bargain.” Republicans have already selected Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, to succeed her.

Brian Mackey hosts with regular panelist Charlie Wheeler and guests Tony Arnold of Chicago public radio station WBEZ and Amanda Vinicky of Chicago Tonight, which airs on PBS station WTTW.

State Week: Radogno Resigns And Still No Budget

Chicago’s Elected School Board Stalls Again

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Despite sailing through both chambers of the Illinois state Legislature, a bill creating an elected school board for Chicago is stalled and won’t be coming back up until at least the fall.

That’s the unhappy conclusion of the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago. He and others have long pushed to replace the city’s mayoral-appointed school board.

The overwhelming support for an elected school board came as a surprise this legislative session, and Marwick had hoped to get it finalized in June. But the legislation was overshadowed by the intense budget negotiations, he said. After failing to pass a budget for two years, state lawmakers are now under intense pressure to pass one.

Chicago’s Elected School Board Stalls Again

Judge: Cash-strapped state must pay more toward medical bills

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SPRINGFIELD — A federal judge on Friday ordered Illinois to start paying $253 million more in state money toward Medicaid bills every month and an additional $1 billion over the course of the next year, worsening a cash-flow problem caused by two years of budget-free spending by state government.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s ruling came after lawyers representing Medicaid patients and attorneys for the state were unable to agree on a plan to deal with bills and pay down a $3 billion backlog owed to health care providers.

The ruling requires the state to start promptly paying all new Medicaid bills, which is estimated at about $586 million per month, and to pay down $2 billion of its bill backlog in payments spred out over the course of the coming fiscal year. The federal government pays half of those costs, so the bottom line for the state will be $253 million per month and $1 billion in backlogged bill payments over the next year.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza‘s office earlier in the week had offered to pay an additional $150 million per month, but the plaintiffs rejected it, saying it wasn’t enough. The $150 million would have only cost the state $75 million because of the federal match, and Mendoza’s office said that was all the state could spare while meeting other demands.

Now, Mendoza said Friday’s ruling would cause her to likely have to cut payments to the state’s pension funds, state payroll or payments to local governments. Payments to bond holders won’t be interrupted, she said.

“As if the governor and legislators needed any more reason to compromise and settle on a comprehensive budget plan immediately, Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court takes the state’s finances from horrific to catastrophic,” Mendoza said in a statement. “A comprehensive budget plan must be passed immediately.”

In court arguments Wednesday, patients’ attorney David Chizewer likened the situation to a misbehaving child provoking a frustrated parent.

“What they secretly want is for the parent to step in and stop the behavior,” Chizewer said. “I think the state is asking the court to step in.”

Lefkow stepped in two years ago, when Illinois’ budget impasse began, and ordered the state to continue making payments to managed care organizations under Medicaid, a state and federal program that provides health care to poor people. The decision was one of many court orders that helped allow the state to continue operating for two years, and spend far beyond its means, without a formal budget in place.

As the impasse continued, bills at the comptroller’s office have piled up, reaching nearly $15 billion. The Medicaid bills that Lefow ordered to be paid have taken a backseat to other state obligations, including public employee payroll, contributions to state pension systems, distributions to local governments, state aid for elementary and high schools, and payments on state debt.

Mendoza’s office has argued those payments are part of its “core priority” category. Each is either required by a state court order or written into state law. In recent weeks, the comptroller has warned that the state doesn’t even have adequate cash flow to make those payments, and will be at least $185 million short by August.

Earlier this month, Lefkow decided it was reasonable for Medicaid providers to expect their bills to be paid, if not in full, then enough to maintain patients’ access to care. The judge ordered the two sides to negotiate a payment plan. At the time, the pile of bills owed to providers was estimated at $2 billion. Now Mendoza’s office says it’s more like $3 billion.

Talks broke down, however, and the lawyers representing Medicaid patients went back to court to ask the judge to compel the state to start making about $1 billion in monthly payments. When reimbursements from the federal government are factored in, the payments would put a roughly $550 million dent in the state’s checking account each month.

Lawyers for the state also argued that while the bill backlog is a problem, there wasn’t evidence to show that Medicaid patients had been denied care as a result.

Lefkow said she was bothered that “other people who are not as needy as these people are getting 100 percent” payment of their bills. Lefkow said she wasn’t in favor of depriving workers of their salaries or skipping pension payments, but said the state “has a real problem explaining” how some people are being paid while others are not.

Lefkow said it was “obvious” the state was failing to comply with her court order to pay the Medicaid bills. But she wanted evidence of harm that’s been caused to Medicaid patients as a result. She ordered the lawyers for the patients to submit affidavits documenting the damage.

kgeiger@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kimgeiger

Judge: Cash-strapped state must pay more toward medical bills

Complaint calls roll in as Illinois elections board waits for Trump voter data letter

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Illinois election officials on Friday acknowledged receiving calls of concern over information being sought by President Donald Trump‘s Election Integrity Commission, but said they have yet to receive a formal request for the state’s voter data.

On Wednesday, the panel’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sent a letter to election authorities across the nation seeking voter roll data that includes name, address, birth date, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting history going back to 2006.

But that letter hadn’t arrived yet in Illinois, where state elections board members are scheduled to meet Monday. They still could discuss the request for “publicly available data” the president’s commission is seeking.

Several election authorities around the country have expressed concern about the breadth of the request and notified the commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, they will not be complying. That includes Indiana, where Pence was governor.

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a statement Friday that she was withholding some information since Indiana law only allows her to share voter names, congressional districts and addresses. Lawson is a member of the Pence commission.

Illinois law allows voter data to be obtained by political committees, which use them to develop their voter databases, and by governmental agencies for governmental purposes, such as for jury duty notices.

But Illinois law prevents the release of more personal information associated with the voter files, such as Social Security numbers, drivers’ license numbers or digital copies of voter signatures.

Illinois election officials said Friday that they have received many phone inquiries from the public about the request. While the secretary of state is the chief election officer in many states, the State Board of Elections is in charge of elections here. After getting calls, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office took to Twitter Friday to refer concerned voters to the Springfield and Chicago offices of the state elections board.

On Friday afternoon, voter rights advocacy group Just Democracy Illinois sent a letter to state election officials urging them to deny the Trump panel’s “intrusive request,” citing privacy concerns.

Trump created the commission in May to investigate alleged acts of voter fraud after he claimed, without evidence, that 3 million to 5 million undocumented immigrants voted illegally in the 2016 election. Critics, citing little evidence of widespread voter fraud, have contended the commission is attempting to lay the groundwork for voter suppression efforts.

rap30@aol.com

Twitter @rap30

Complaint calls roll in as Illinois elections board waits for Trump voter data letter

Reality of lack of budget will hit countless state agencies hard on Saturday

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Lawmakers will be back at work tomorrow in Springfield working toward a budget deal.

For two years social services have been cut, university and local school districts have been scraping by.

While lawmakers talk the clock keeps ticking and our debt keeps growing we are hovering around $15 billion in unpaid bills.

Road projects throughout the state will come stop July 1 that could cost people their jobs.  Sales of multi state lottery games are done at 9:45 p.m. Friday which will costs the state about $250,000 a day in revenue.

Social services in the state have been hardest hit by the budget impasse.  Layoffs and a reduction of services are happening statewide.  For example, the state owes Family Focus 2.7 million dollars.  Come tomorrow, 71 percent of its workforce will  be laid off leaving those employees without a paycheck and parents who depend on their services scrambling.

CPS is already in dire financial straits borrowing millions to just to keep the doors open this year and next year.  Without state funding it will have to find another source or revenue to ensure the classrooms will be full come fall.

Suburban districts are looking at ways to save money as well.  Higher education is no better off.  SIU this week said the lack of budget  and declining enrollment due to student financial aid being held up- has put the school’s accreditation in jeopardy.

Additionally, the state comptroller says by August, it will lose flexibility to prioritize and pay court-ordered bills.  This includes nursing homes, hospice center and some people with disabilities.  And while Speaker Madigan has asked the rating agencies to hold off on down grading the state’s credit to junk it doesn’t mean they’ll listen to him

Reality of lack of budget will hit countless state agencies hard on Saturday

My View: Illinois should cut property taxes now

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Property taxes in Illinois are too high and the longer we wait to address the problem the more our property taxes will go up.

According to the Tax Foundation, only the state of New Jersey has higher property taxes. It seems Illinois and New Jersey are in a fierce battle for the title of the state with the highest property taxes in the country.

Citizens in Illinois are tired of the inaction when it comes to property tax relief. In fact, a statewide poll released in March showed 67 percent of Illinois residents support a permanent property tax freeze.

Everywhere I go, I constantly hear from constituents who are upset about property taxes. When I have constituents come up to me and point out how even a freeze won’t be the kind of relief they need because their taxes are so high, that tells me we must do more than just freeze property tax rates — we should lower them.

I have sponsored a measure (HB 1768) that would reduce property tax levies by 10 percent total (5 percent each year for two years) for all local governments, except school districts and community colleges. The non-school tax levies would then be permanently frozen at the new lower tax levies. My bill would also permanently freeze tax levies for school districts and community colleges.

I have voted more than 20 times in the House in recent years to freeze property tax rates. Earlier this year, the House approved property tax freeze legislation during the lame duck session of the Legislature.

In addition, I have consistently sponsored legislation (HB 347) to give voters the ability to dissolve local governments if they so desire. Not only do we need to cut property taxes and freeze property tax rates, but we also need to give citizens the ability to lower the cost of local government by eliminating the number of units of local government in Illinois. Illinois has nearly 7,000 units of local government. If we want to lower the cost of government, we need to decrease the number of local governments in our state.

We do not need to keep debating the issue and defining the problem. We know property taxes in Illinois are too high. We know that people are leaving Illinois in droves in part because the taxes are too high. Illinois lost nearly 115,000 people from July 2015 to July 2016.

Property tax rates are hurting working families and our senior citizens. They need relief. It is really that simple.

The longer we delay action on solving the property tax issue in Illinois, the more people are going to leave. The more people that leave Illinois, the higher the tax burden will be on those still living in the state. Taxes go up and people move out of the state. To make up the difference, taxes go up again and even more people leave. It is a vicious cycle we must break. We can’t keep raising taxes. It is time to lower property taxes and make Illinois a destination for jobs and opportunities.

The status quo is not working. We have billions and billions of dollars of unpaid bills. Our credit rating is one notch above junk bond status. We have some of the worst pension debt in the nation. What about our current financial situation can be considered a success?

So why are we continuing with the status quo?

We need more jobs that will create more taxpayers in Illinois. The time has come for both legislative chambers to send a property tax reduction bill to the governor for him to sign it into law. The Legislature is in Springfield for a special session. It is time for the Legislature to take decisive action on behalf of taxpayers in Illinois. Let’s end the cycle of tax increases and the mass exodus of people from Illinois by reducing and then freezing property taxes in Illinois.

David McSweeney is a state representative from Barrington.

My View: Illinois should cut property taxes now

Another budget deadline passes, but maybe a glimmer of hope at Capitol

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers stared into the bleak abyss Friday, as everyone else waited expectantly to see whether they would take the leap or try to push each other off.

Instead, they clasped hands in a surprise display of unity, patted each other on the back and then — just as optimism began to grow that they finally might work out their differences — asked for a timeout.

Swear to God. They asked Wall Street for a timeout.

Can they do that? Well, they can ask.

As another deadline came and went without any resolution to Illinois’ historic budget impasse, the timeout episode actually provided a fresh glimmer of hope in the Capitol.

I drove down here thinking I ought to be at the scene of the crime when the state’s embarrassing political gridlock went from harmful to devastating.

Then, something encouraging happened, for once.

The Illinois House moved a $36 billion spending plan to passage stage with a bipartisan 90-25 vote that was intended to show the world that compromise is possible, even in dysfunctional Illinois.

To be clear, House members didn’t give the necessary final approval to the spending plan nor to the tax-increase legislation needed to pay for it.

But the vote showed they could do so if some other things fall into place.

And Democrats and Republicans didn’t really clasp hands, unless you count congratulatory handshakes. But they did say nice things to each other, and they acted like long-lost friends for a few brief minutes.

Nor did House Speaker Michael Madigan literally jump off the bench and call time.

But Madigan did use that small piece of forward momentum to justify sending a letter to the Wall Street ratings agencies asking them to “temporarily withhold judgment” on downgrading the state’s credit status to junk while they continue working on a deal.

The ratings agencies had threatened to move as quickly as Saturday to impose the junk rating if the state entered yet another fiscal year without a balanced budget.

Well, we’ve started another fiscal year, there’s still no budget, and all the same daunting obstacles remain.

Yet there was something about the public tone set by Madigan and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin that made me believe there might still a chance they could wrap up a deal on Saturday.

“Let’s keep up the good work. Let’s get the job done,” said Madigan, which is about as close as you’ll ever hear him come to sounding like The Gipper.

After the morning vote, negotiations continued behind closed doors. Gov. Bruce Rauner stayed out of sight, which was also encouraging.

It’s not as if there are strict rules governing what happens next on the credit-rating front.

The July 1 deadline was always somewhat arbitrary on the part of the ratings agencies though certainly justifiable, given the state’s dysfunction.

It’s not as if the political obstacles got any worse overnight — the deadline for approving legislation with just a simple majority having been missed a month ago.

So the thinking seems to be: “Hey, it’s a holiday weekend. Would it really hurt anybody if Wall Street gave the state a few more days to wrap up its business?”

The big hangups remain the tax hikes needed to pay for the budget and Rauner’s non-budgetary demands.

Madigan has said Republicans need to put up 30 of the 71 votes required for passage, which is an awfully large number unless Rauner orders GOP lawmakers to get on board. And nobody expects him to do that unless Democrats go further than they have so far to meet his requirements.

Make no mistake, the consequences of failing to quickly resolve this mess quickly are severe and real. Just maybe not as immediate as we might have expected.

 

Another budget deadline passes, but maybe a glimmer of hope at Capitol