Senate Week in Review: February 24-28
A highly critical audit of a program Governor Quinn promoted as a way to reduce violence in Chicago neighborhoods prompted Illinois House and Senate Republicans this week to urge the Illinois Auditor General to refer the findings to the Executive Inspector General (EIG) for further evaluation, State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.
In addition, a closer look at the Feb. 2014 audit of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) and a related audit suggests potential criminal activity could merit additional review by the U.S. Attorney.
Critics labeled the program “a political slush fund” and suggested that the audits contained information that could easily lead to indictments.
For many, it was reminiscent of the negative audits that were released during the era of now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
According to the Auditor General, the $54.55 million NRI program was “hastily implemented” with “pervasive deficiencies in Illinois Violence Prevention Authority's (IVPA) planning, implementation, and management.”
The audits also found Governor Quinn broke state law when he shuffled funds among various accounts in order to circumvent the legislature’s authority to annually appropriate General Fund dollars.
In effect, the Governor was able to create a non-appropriated slush fund of $91 million that he could use in future fiscal years without having to request that the General Assembly re-appropriate those dollars. Approximately $45 million was eventually given to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. (IVPA Compliance Audit, for two years ended June 30, 2012; pages 10-14; Released 2/25/14. Finding 12-1.)
Additionally, the audit noted financial reporting mechanisms that would have monitored the spending of the grant dollars were “ineffectively implemented…reducing their usefulness.” Notably, upwards of 78 percent of NRI communities failed to maintain contractually-required caseloads, suggesting that some employees could have been paid for completing little or no work.
More on the Auditor General’s performance audit at the Senate GOP website. More information on the controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative can also be found online, including:
• The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) Audit.
• The compliance audit of the Violence Prevention Authority.
• The 2012 4-month CNN investigation on the NRI.
Rezin honors retiring Illinois Farm Bureau president in Illinois Senate
Sen. Rezin honored retiring Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson in the Illinois Senate on February 26. Mr. Nelson is retiring after serving as president for the last ten years.
Sen. Rezin said Mr. Nelson’s contributions to the farming industry and the Illinois Farm Bureau have made a lasting impact.
“President Nelson has been a lifelong, dedicated farmer and his involvement with the Illinois Farm Bureau has benefited from his commitment to the industry,” Sen. Rezin said. “His leadership has taken the Illinois Farm Bureau to new heights and he has laid out a clear vision for the future success of the organization. The organization will be able to build upon what he has established during his tenure as president. I was honored to be able to recognize him in the Illinois Senate.”
Sen. Rezin is pictured here on the Senate floor with Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson and State Rep. John Anthony (R-Morris).
Young Adult Heroin Task Force holds second meeting
Sen. Rezin said that the bipartisan, bicameral Young Adult Heroin Task Force met for the second time Wednesday night at the Capitol to hear testimony from a number of witnesses.
Media reports over the past two years have made it clear that Illinois has a problem with heroin. Stories of abuse, addiction and death have been numerous and it has not been limited to one or two smaller areas of the state. It is a statewide epidemic which prompted the Illinois General Assembly to create a task force to address the problem.
The task force has been charged to conduct a study on the heroin use problem in high schools and suggest programs and policies to address the problem.
Witnesses that provided testimony at the hearing included Bill Gentes, the Project Coordinator for the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevent Task Force, Kathy Kane-Willis from Roosevelt University in Chicago, and Dr. Joseph Troinani, Will County Director of Behavioral Health. The task force also learned about the criminal justice side of the issue from Christian County State’s Attorney, Mike Havera and Macoupin County Assistant State’s Attorney Jordan Garrison.
The next scheduled meeting is for March 1 at Rock Valley College Woodward Tech Center in Rockford from 11:00 AM-2:00 PM.
College Illinois! reforms proposed
State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) has called for an overhaul of the College Illinois! prepaid tuition plan, saying the plan must be restructured in order to protect parents, students and taxpayers.
“This is a well-intentioned program, but it is dangerously close to financial disaster,” Barickman said. “Unfortunately, parents who invest in this program think they are buying financial security for their children when in reality, just the opposite may be true.”
Barickman noted that the fund ended the last fiscal year with an unfunded liability of nearly $450 million and had a funding ratio of 72.3%. Actuaries have noted that the fund must recruit between 1,000 and 2,000 new contract buyers annually in order to avoid running out of money.
To stabilize the program and protect both participants and taxpayers, Barickman has filed two reforms, SB 3527 and SB 3528. You can read more about College Illinois! and Sen. Barickman’s legislation at his website.
Keeping students safe
Providing immediate and practical solutions for keeping students safe at school is the aim of legislation sponsored by State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) and approved Feb. 27 by the Illinois Senate.
Senate Bill 2747 creates the School Security and Standards Task Force.
“More and more reports of violence at schools throughout the United States underscore the need to act now to keep our students, teachers and staff safe,” said Bivins, a former Lee County Sheriff.
A law creating the Task Force passed last year, but the Governor did not make appointments to it in a timely fashion and work was not completed by a Jan. 2, 2014, sunset date.