Senate Week in Review: April 16-20

Springfield, Ill. – Medicaid and Pension reforms took the spotlight, when on April 19 Gov. Pat Quinn advocated for a tax increase as a key part of his plan to dig Medicaid out of a multi-billion dollar hole. The following day the Governor announced his own pension reform package to scale back benefits and reduce costs in the nation’s worst-funded public pension system. And State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said buzz once again surrounds the state’s Lottery program, as media reports outline what appear to be conflicts of interest between Gov. Quinn and the group awarded a 10-year contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to oversee the Lottery program.

Lawmakers returned to Springfield to kick off the seven week stretch to the scheduled end of the Spring 2012 legislative session. Having spent the first portion of the Spring session focused on Senate bills, Senate Committees this week began considering legislation introduced by House lawmakers, though notably absent from Committee discussion was a vote on a measure to eliminate the state’s scandal-plagued legislative scholarship program.

In response to the state’s Medicaid crisis, Gov. Pat Quinn on April 19 advocated for a tax increase as part of his plan to fix Illinois’ Medicaid hole. The Governor’s pension changes include increased contributions from employees, changes in retiree cost of living adjustments and a revised 30-year schedule to bring the system to full funding.

On the Medicaid issue, Republican lawmakers applauded the Governor’s acknowledgement that the program must be scaled back, but raising taxes and shifting costs is not the permanent solution needed to salvage the program.

Medicaid is growing at an unsustainable rate. Unless significant reforms are adopted, the state is on track to see a $21 billion deficit in five years. Illinois needs to cut nearly $3 billion from the Medicaid program in this fiscal year budget just to maintain the current $1.8 billion backlog of bills—a number Gov. Quinn stated he would meet in the budget plan he outlined in February.

However, Sen. Rezin said that the plan the Governor outlined will not accomplish that goal. Quinn’s proposal relies on a $338 million tax increase in order to fuel further spending, and includes nearly $700 million in rate cuts to hospitals and nursing homes.

Senate Republicans said making dramatic cuts in reimbursement rates to hospitals and nursing homes is the wrong approach and could simply shift costs to consumers who already pay for their own insurance. In addition, instead of providing long-term savings, cutting rates could further reduce access to the Medicaid program for Illinois’ poorest citizens; those who need and rely upon Medicaid services.

While appreciative of the Governor’s input, GOP leaders stressed the importance of allowing the bipartisan, bicameral Medicaid Working Group that his been meeting through the Spring, to wrap-up their discussions before any decisions are made with regard to Medicaid. The legislative panel, composed of House and Senate lawmakers from both parties, in conjunction with the Director of Healthcare and Family Services, Julie Hamos, has been working to come up with substantive solutions to truly tackle Illinois’ Medicaid problems.

Republican Leaders Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) issued a statement Thursday noting that they “stand with our members on the Medicaid working group against any tax increases to solve our Medicaid crisis. We are encouraging the working group to continue working in a bi-partisan way to come up with $2.7 billion in Medicaid reforms and cuts, NOT revenue enhancements.”

Gov. Quinn also revealed his pension plan on April 20, despite the fact that the pension reform group he commissioned still continues to meet and formulate a plan of their own.  Gov. Quinn’s plan includes raising the retirement age and employer contributions.  He also marked it as voluntary.  The pension reform group plans to unveil a proposal within the coming weeks. 

In Lottery news, media reports are highlighting possible impropriety with regard to the selection of the state’s private manager, Northstar Lottery Group.

Illinois was the first state to privatize its lottery management and marketing, selecting Northstar in 2011 for the lucrative contract after a controversial, month’s long selection process. The Lottery management selection and bid process was strongly criticized by Auditor General Bill Holland, as well as rival companies, Camelot Group and Intralot.

State officials came under fire for refusing to release information on the companies that bid for the contract, or identify committee members who reviewed the bids, until the contract was awarded. The lack of public information raised eyebrows and sparked criticism, though Lottery officials contended that releasing too much information could have compromised the selection process. Despite the controversy, Northstar took over management of the program in July 2011 as planned.

Adding to the controversy, Illinois Statehouse News recently highlighted allegations brought forward by a Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity investigation, which showed that GTECH, the company which owns 80 percent of Northstar, has poured hundred of thousands of dollars into a campaign fund that siphoned $1.5 million to Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign fund in 2010.

Additionally, The Franklin Center found that one of the Quinn Administration’s panelists in charge of reviewing applications for the hundred million dollar-plus contract, was Northstar’s executive in charge of lottery sales. That man is currently employed by the state as deputy lottery superintendent, making almost $110,000.

In Committee action, a vote on a measure to eliminate the state’s scandal-plagued legislative scholarship program has been delayed once again. Despite widespread Senate support for legislation to eliminate the General Assembly Scholarship Program, the Senate Executive Committee members weren’t able to vote on the measure as anticipated.

Instead, three bills to end the General Assembly tuition waiver program have been sent to an Executive Subcommittee on Education. This includes House Bill 3810, which has 38 senate sponsors—more than enough votes to pass the legislation, as well as Senate Bill 2932 and Senate Bill 2914. Subcommittees are traditionally used by the majority to bury legislation they oppose and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has consistently opposed eliminating the scandal-plagued program.

In 2012, Senate Republican lawmakers voluntarily walked away from the controversial legislative scholarship program. The Caucus said that at a time when state government is not only looking to cut costs, but show it is serious about targeting impropriety, eliminating the program is the right thing to do.

Sen. Rezin explained that the program is a financial drain on the higher education system because the state does not reimburse colleges for the cost of the program. Instead, costs are passed on to the universities—to the tune of more than $13 million a year. In turn, the institutions pass those costs on to other students through increased tuition and fees.

Sen. Rezin has a few upcoming events for you to mark on your calendars.  On June 9, she will be hosting a Kids Fair along with State Rep. Pam Roth (R-Morris) in Minooka.  Participants include the Grundy County Sheriff K-9 Unit, Channahon Fire Protection District, Girl Scouts, Ignite Cheerleading, Joliet Family YMCA, and many more.  The following week, June 11-15, Sen. Rezin will be holding her First Annual Legislative Budget Review at five separate locations throughout the district.  Join her for a recap of the spring session, including legislative achievements and challenges still facing Illinois.  The evenings are meant to give insight on how the policy decisions in Springfield affect you and your family.  Please visit Sen. Rezin’s website at www.senatorrezin.com to learn more about these two events. 

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