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Senate Week in Review: Senate Lawmakers Voluntarily Reduce Pay, Plus More

A complied review of Senate activities this week.

Springfield, Ill. – State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said he is continuing to settle into his new district office location and wants to remind constituents that he is no longer at the Lombard office location.  Please note that he is now located at 1121 Warren Avenue Suite 215, Downers Grove 60515.  The phone number has changed to 630-737-0504, and the fax number is 630-737-0509.

Setting the path for what Senate Republicans hope will be cooperative, bipartisan budget negotiations, the State Senate on March 7 gave final approval to House Joint Resolution 68 and Senate Resolution 586, which formally establish the state’s available estimated Fiscal Year 2013 general funds at $33.719 billion.
 
While pleased that lawmakers were able to come to a consensus on the revenue number, Sen. Sandack said the real work will begin when state leaders begin negotiating how much the state should spend, and where those funds should be allocated. Senate Republicans stressed that the revenue estimate is not to be considered a spending level; the Caucus will oppose any budget plan that includes increased and unsustainable spending.
 
“This revenue number is an estimate, meaning it is subject to change,” Sen. Sandack said.  “It’s important to keep that in mind – the number could be lower, which means we should be conservative when crafting the budget.  Otherwise, we’ll put the state further in debt and leave no revenue to pay existing bills.  It would be better for us to be conservative and have extra revenue to pay down more than 1.9 percent of the backlog as Gov. Quinn has proposed.” 

House and Senate Committees met continuously throughout the week as lawmakers also worked to move hundreds of bills through the legislative committee process before a March 9 deadline, Senator Sandack said.

Also during the week, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) was taken to task by the Auditor General for its handling of a multi-billion dollar health insurance contract, and public hearings begin in response to Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed closure of 14 state facilities.
 
Spending must be significantly reduced in the coming fiscal year, and unless substantial spending reforms are made in all areas of state government—including the state’s Medicaid program and the pension system—Illinois’ unpaid bills are on track to reach $35 billion in just five years. Similarly, lacking significant Medicaid reforms, fiscal experts say Illinois faces a $21 billion Medicaid backlog within five years.
 
In response to Illinois’ bleak fiscal outlook, Senate lawmakers have once again voted to voluntarily reduce legislative pay and forego cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) in Fiscal Year 2013. This is expected to save the state more than $1 million.
 
“This legislation was just one of the many steps the legislature needs to take this spring to shape a fiscally responsible budget,” Sen. Sandack said.  “We can’t ask other people to cut back if we as public officials do not do the same.  The budget process is going to involve some difficult decisions, but this was not one of them.” 

House Bill 3188 requires every lawmaker to forfeit 12 days of compensation through furlough days. The bill also prohibits COLAs from being awarded to members of the General Assembly, elected executive officers, and state’s attorneys, and advances per diem changes to reduce costs associated with legislative travel expenses, including food, lodging and gas reimbursements. This is the third consecutive year the Legislature has voted to reduce lawmakers’ pay and to reject the annual cost-of-living adjustment.

A complete list of bills approved by Senate Committees during the week is available at www.senategop.state.il.us and can be accessed in the “Senate Committee Action” page. The Senate Republican Caucus will be frequently updating this site with daily Senate action when the Illinois Senate is in Session.

In other state news, following a critical March 2012 audit of the state’s procurement of health insurance vendors, State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) is calling for an immediate suspension of the process of selecting vendors for state-administered supplemental HMO insurance coverage.  Brady serves on the Legislative Audit Commission, the agency which oversees the State Audit Program.
 
State Auditor General Bill Holland blasted DHFS for its handling of a five-year, $6.6 billion contract that was awarded to Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) in 2011 to administer HMO plans for more than 400,000 enrollees. The audit provided a disturbing summary, outlining the Quinn Administration’s failure to comply with the procurement code and provisions of the Ethics Commission.
 
The audit concluded there were “serious deficiencies” in how the contract was awarded, “including the disregard for following evaluation procedures and lack of documentation to support how the recommendation to award changed.” Auditors also found that DHFS awarded BCBS contracts in 20 counties it did not even bid on, and that BCBS had zero primary care physicians located in 24 counties that it was awarded. Additionally, Mercer, the consulting firm utilized by the Department to assist with the bidding process, had business relationships with all the companies bidding for the contracts. The audit criticized DHFS for failing to disclose Mercer’s relationships with the bidders.
 
And while the Department said the contract with BCBS would result in long-term savings for the state of more than $1 billion, the audit questioned the reliability of that number. As a result, the auditor determined that “we are unable to conclude whether the State’s best interests were achieved” by DHFS, as related to the health insurance procurements.
 
Noting the “Request For Proposals” (RFP) process should be halted until the Illinois Legislative Audit Commission can take a closer look at Holland’s findings, Brady sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn on March 8, asking him to suspend the RFP process for determining supplemental healthcare procurement.  He also asked Illinois Legislative Audit Commission Executive Director Jane Stricklin to schedule a hearing March 21 on the issue.
 
Finally, this week State Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville) joined members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) and hundreds of interested citizens on March 7 for a public hearing on Gov. Quinn’s proposed closure of Jacksonville Development Center (JDC). As part of his budget proposal, the Governor has proposed shuttering 14 state facilities and consolidating several more. Proposed closures extend to 10 correctional facilities, transitional centers and juvenile justice centers, as well as four state mental health and developmental center closures.
 
Though facility closures have been met with strong resistance from members of the surrounding community, employees, and many family members of those being treated in the MH/DD facilities, many lawmakers acknowledge that Illinois’ serious budget shortfalls make difficult cuts inevitable.
 
Some people are advocating for the closure of the traditional models of MH/DD facilities, saying that the patients will receive better quality of care in a more intimate, home-based setting. However, others contend that many of the patients at the state’s MH/DD facilities have extreme disabilities that require the 24-hour care found in the more conventional institutional setting.
 
As the Administration proceeds with plans to close state facilities, the public is encouraged to provide feedback to COGFA. The Commission is in charge of the facility closure process, and is tasked with holding public hearings regarding every proposed closure and providing the Governor with an advisory opinion on how to proceed. Members of the public interested in speaking at upcoming hearings or simply providing written testimony can send that information via e-mail to facilityclosure@ilga.gov.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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