Senate Week in Review: March 10-14
SPRINGFIELD, IL – Governor Quinn’s controversial “Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI)” continued to draw negative headlines during the past week, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.
Stories surfaced that the husband of a prominent Cook County officeholder received nearly $150,000 under the program and it was learned that a teen who received grant money through the anti-violence program has been charged in the killing of another participant in the program, during a gang-related break-in and robbery.
In response to a joint request by House and Senate Republicans, Auditor General Bill Holland turned over his report of Governor Quinn’s anti-violence Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) to federal investigators and the state executive inspector general.
A recent newspaper investigation revealed that seven percent of more than $2.1 million appropriated from NRI funds to the West Garfield Park neighborhood from 2011 to 2012 was paid to the husband of Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown.
Records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that Brown’s spouse, Benton Cook, received $146,401 in salary and benefits between 2011 and 2012, working as the NRI program coordinator for the Garfield Park neighborhood.
In a related development, the Chicago Sun-Times found that a teen who received grant money through the program has been linked to an alleged gang murder.
Quinn’s roughly $100 million taxpayer-funded NRI program was described in Holland’s audit as “hastily implemented” and inundated by “pervasive deficiencies in…planning, implementation and management.” Holland’s findings reveal questionable political activity as the program was rolled out just one month before Quinn’s 2010 election.
These findings add additional evidence of cronyism and political clout behind the Governor’s failed anti-violence initiative. The NRI was proposed as a way to “combat violence” in Chicago; however, the grant money was not directed to many of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, Quinn relied on Chicago alderman when picking what organizations would receive money, and there is no evidence that it has been effective in preventing violence.
Holland’s NRI audits have been released to U.S. Attorney James Lewis and to state Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza.
Show your support for Senate Bill 3138
Sen. Rezin said that a week after an online petition was created for people to show their support for her Senate Bill 3138, it has garnered over 650 signatures from people all over the state, country and world.
The legislation was introduced by Sen. Rezin to help animal shelters and stores across the country better screen potential animal owners. The measure would allow Illinois to opt into the national Do No Adopt Database – a first of its kind national database administered by Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) – that would compile animal abuse conviction data into one database that will be accessible across state lines. This will allow shelters and pet stores to screen potential adopters and customers to ensure that they have not been convicted of animal abuse crimes, such as dog fighting or hoarding.
To learn more about Senate Bill 3138 or to sign the petition of support, visit Sen. Rezin’s website at www.senatorrezin.com.
Mark your calendars: Upcoming community heroin forums
Sen. Rezin said that the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO) will be involved with two upcoming community heroin forums within the district. Heroin use and heroin related deaths have been on the rise in the area over the last couple of years. The General Assembly has even created a bipartisan, bicameral Young Adult Heroin Use Task Force, of which Sen. Rezin was appointed to serve as a member of.
The first forum will be held at Minooka High School’s Central Campus Auditorium on Thursday, April 10 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. John Roberts, co-founder of HERO who lost his son to heroin in 2010, will speak about way to cope with the loss of a loved one, how to react to and deal with a current user, and how to prevent drug use or spot the signs of it before it is too late. Other panelists will include Jason Helland, Grundy County State’s Attorney; Jeff Wold, Police Chief of Channahon; Justin Meyer, Police Chief of Minooka; Kristie Polk of Crossroad Counseling; and many more.
The community forum is intended for parents/guardians, educators, health professionals and other concerned citizens. Anyone under the age of 18 should be accompanied by an adult/parent or guardian. It is sponsored by Minooka CHSD #111, Channahon and Minooka Police Departments, Grundy County State’s Attorney’s Office and the No Tolerance Task Force.
The second forum will be held on May 17 at the Romeoville Athletic and Events Center from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will include a resource fair, several guest speakers, a question and answer session and educational sessions. For more information, please visit www.herohelpsevent.org.
State Grants: Where government waste goes to hide
The controversy over the NRI program also prompted Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Mark Brown to describe state grants as “where the bodies are buried— along with the money to pay them. This is where government waste goes to hide.”
But, that hiding could become a bit harder, thanks to legislation introduced by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), that will make it easier to track state grant dollars. Radogno introduced Senate Bill 2381 last year in response to initial reports that taxpayer-financed grant dollars had been used by the NRI to finance a variety of questionable activities.
The measure requires the state’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) to develop a system to collect and maintain state financial data, including information specific to the management and administration of grant funds. Each agency that authorizes grant funds must coordinate with the CIO to have the applicable grant information published on www.data.illinois.gov for public review.
The information will be updated quarterly and include the name of the agency distributing the grant, the name and zip code of the grantee, a short description of the purpose of the grant, the amount of the grant, the date the grant was awarded and the duration of the grant funding.
Legislative Leaders push for quick pension decision
The two top Republican lawmakers are pushing the Attorney General to pursue a quick court decision on pension reform.
Radogno and House Republican leader Jim Durkin (R-Western) sent a letter to Lisa Madigan asking her to take steps to expedite a pending court challenge to the state’s Dec. 2013 pension law changes.
They said they believe legal procedures are available to the Attorney General to expedite the case and are encouraging her to do so because a quick court decision will allow Illinois lawmakers to better manage the state budget.
Illinois’ ‘Scarlet Letter’
Illinois wears a "scarlet letter" when it borrows money because of its poor financial reputation, a March study found. The study said that poor reputation cost state taxpayers at least $80 million in additional interest charges over a five-year period.
Illinois has the worst credit rating in the nation. Under Gov. Pat Quinn the state has taken a beating on its credit, with Quinn racking up 13 credit downgrades in his time in office. That is 10 more than his now-imprisoned predecessor and constitutes more credit downgrades than all past governors combined.
The University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs compared the state's sales of general obligation bonds against other states from 2005 to 2010 and found Illinois paid a "risk premium" based solely on buyers' perception of its credit stability.
The study was done by DePaul University professor Martin Luby and Tima Moldogaziev of the University of South Carolina. They wanted to determine if interest rates are higher than other states' rates in similar situations.
Using a "scarlet letter” metaphor they found that high interest rates associated with a poor credit rating are actually worse than the financial, economic and fiscal conditions would warrant if rates were set purely on an objective basis.
They also argued there are hidden costs as well. For example, the state’s poor financial reputation may discourage some companies from competing for state business. Less competition can then lead to the state paying higher prices for goods and services.
Topinka: State deficit up in FY13
If Illinois is paying a premium for its poor financial management, the latest annual financial report from Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka isn’t likely to help.
The State of Illinois' net position reported a deficit of $44.799 billion as of June 30, 2013 in the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). That is $49 million more than the deficit of $44.750 billion the previous year.
The State's assets increased $3.762 billion from the prior year, offset by an increase in liabilities of $3.811 billion. The increases in liabilities resulted mainly from increases in the State’s net pension obligation of $1.720 billion and net other postemployment benefit obligations of $1.753 billion.
The Comptroller did have some good news though. The 2013 CAFR received a clean audit opinion from the Illinois Office of the Auditor General and was signed on February 28, 2014, approximately 3 months earlier than the 2012 CAFR, and earlier than at any time in the last seven years.