• Civic Federation estimates that Illinois on track to pay more than $1.2 billion in back bills, but only if Medicaid promises kept. The nonpartisan group’s estimate, released on Monday, October 8, assumes full implementation of the State’s FY13 budget. In budget moves spurred by House Republican Representative Patty Bellock (R-Westmont), the annual spending plan includes $1.6 billion in Medicaid cuts. Bellock and her colleagues have demanded, as part of the FY13 budget process, that the State take another look at our list of Medicaid patients. The goal of this scrutiny will be to uncover households that should have voluntarily left the system as a result of increasing incomes, changes in the ages of one or more children, or changes in other eligibility factors. The Quinn administration has asked for additional time in getting their patient-scrutiny procedure up and running. Implementation of the FY13 Medicaid and other savings demanded by House Republicans will be a key element in reducing the State’s backlog of more than $8.8 billion in unpaid bills owed to suppliers of goods and services.
• House Republican initiative shows more than $2,000,000 in Illinois tax money was paid to defendants in prison or jail. An inquiry spearheaded by Representative John Cavaletto (R-Salem) has found that over a 12-month period more than $2.0 million in State unemployment insurance benefits was mistakenly paid out to people incarcerated in Illinois. Monies paid include $722,000 handed over to inmates in Chicago’s Cook County Jail. “That’s just kind of the tip of the iceberg,” asserts Cavaletto, pointing out that a tip from one of his Southern Illinois constituents had played a key role in uncovering the scam. After Cavaletto’s House Resolution 330 demanded action on the issue of mistaken payments of unemployment checks to jail cells, the Department of Employment Security took steps to change its policies. The $2.0 million estimate, released on Tuesday, October 9, reflected improved bookkeeping and an internal recount by the State. At Cavaletto’s urging, the Department has begun cross-checking its list of unemployment-insurance recipients with law enforcement lists of persons in prison or jail. The Department has also begun to take steps aimed at getting some of the money reimbursed from these recipients.
• Press questions motivations behind Gov. Quinn’s pick for plum Chicago job. Kelly Kraft, the Governor’s chief spokeswoman, was short-listed last week to become executive director of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority (ISFA). The Authority is the governing board behind publicly-financed U.S. Cellular Field, the home stadium of the Chicago White Sox. Close scrutiny arose on Monday, October 8 after the press and Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel questioned the fitness of Kraft for the position. As the governor has the power to appoint four of the seven members of the ISFA board, his nod is customarily decisive in swaying the board’s hiring decisions. Public court records show that Kraft, a former assistant budget director for the State, declared personal bankruptcy in 2009.
• Circuit judge sides with correctional guards, issues injunction against Quinn’s prison closures. In the wake of plans announced by the budget-squeezed Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to close five Downstate facilities, including the State’s “super-max” Tamms Correctional Center in far southern Illinois, AFSCME (the union that represents Illinois prison guards) has successfully sued for a preliminary injunction to block the move. The legal move was granted on Wednesday, October 10 by a circuit judge in Alexander County, Illinois, where Tamms is located. The Illinois General Assembly had appropriated sufficient funds to keep all of these facilities open, including Tamms, but the Quinn administration has so far not gone along with this segment of the overall FY13 budget. As with all circuit court injunctions, this decision is subject to appeal, and the Quinn administration has announced it will appeal this preliminary injunction to the State Supreme Court.
• House Republicans’ John Cavaletto fights against move to close State facilities. The Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to move residents out of Jacksonville Developmental Center and implement a planning process to move residents out of Murray Developmental Center. HR 1247 (Cavaletto) demands that the nonpartisan Auditor General audit the private consultancy playing a key role in the residential moves. Community Resource Associates (CRA) is a consulting firm hired by the Department to move facility residents to Illinois privately-operated small group homes that try to provide housing and care for the developmentally disabled. CRA is reporting to the Department that they have found “suitable” community-living homes for the residents of these two centers. However, the State centers are designed for the care and treatment of persons with severe developmental disabilities, and many of the residents have two or more life challenges. Many families of these residents are reporting that CRA is carrying out its work in a brusque manner aimed not at the best interests of the residents, but in physically moving them out of the two facilities so that they can be shut down.
These two central and southern Illinois facilities are located in Centralia and Jacksonville. They offer residential treatment for the developmentally disabled. However, they are winding down or are moving towards winding down their operations in line with a State planning process that aims at the full shutdown of both, with the Jacksonville facility scheduled to be shuttered on October 31. While the Department now reports to the press that this date is not likely to be met, the transfer process continues. The General Assembly appropriated money to DHS to enable the Department to keep Jacksonville and Murray operational in fiscal year 2013. However, Gov. Pat Quinn instead chose to continue to implement his shutdown plan. HR 1247, which was filed on Friday, October 5, has not yet been assigned to House a committee.
• Gov. Quinn now moving river mud from Downstate to Chicago. With the twin goals of restoring Lake Peoria for boaters and sealing a mildly toxic “brownfield” on Chicago’s South Side, the State’s chief executive announced a new program on Wednesday, October 10 to re-use Illinois River dredging sediment as landfill material on the Lake Michigan site once occupied by U.S. Steel’s South Works. More than 90,000 tons of river mud will be barged to the former steel mill site, located in Chicago at 87th Street and the lakefront. Planners hope to plant a new lakefront park. The site includes spoil fields used by the manufacturer to dump slag, a mildly toxic substance left over from the steel-smelting process.
• White House admits that Asian carp genetic material found in Chicago’s North Shore Channel. The channel, which connects the Chicago River with Lake Michigan, offers an alternative pathway for the invasive species to enter the Great Lakes. While commercial interests oppose proposals to seal off contact between Illinois rivers and Lake Michigan, fishermen in Illinois and other Midwestern states have expressed deep concerns about the possibility that the rapacious fish species could prey upon or even replace some of the traditional sport and food fish of the Great Lakes. The proposed sealing-off could threaten jobs in chemical and other industries that use affected waterways to move commercial freight. The announcement by the White House Council on Environmental Quality that silver carp DNA, genetic material from one of the varieties of Asian carp, had been found in this sensitive channel was made on October 9.
• New opportunity created for Illinois residents and visitors to play electronic games for monetary prizes. Limited numbers of video games were legalized on Tuesday, October 9 for operation throughout Illinois under the Video Gaming Act. No more than five games will be allowed in each “host location.” The gaming machines will not pay out cash, instead they will print out a receipt slip for presentation to cash-register personnel. The personnel will be responsible for watching the machines and making sure they are not tampered with and are not played by minors. Licensed “host locations” include taverns, veterans’ posts, fraternal organization meeting halls, and truck stops that have undergone an extensive screening process by the Illinois Gaming Board as part of their applications for a license to host one or more video games. The Tuesday roll-out of video games under the Video Gaming Act covers 278 electronic games in 65 separate licensed host locations. More than 2,000 additional taverns and eligible locations throughout Illinois have also applied for host location licenses, so the number of operational gaming machines is expected to increase in future months. On the other hand, many specific municipalities (villages, towns, and cities) have ordinances in place that forbid electronic gaming, or have exercised their rights under the Video Gaming Act to “opt out” of the new law. The Gaming Board has stated that they will only grant licenses to applicants that are located in areas where this activity is legal under local law.