In the midst of a busy week of Senate committee work, a bipartisan auditing committee voted to pursue subpoena power to investigate Governor Pat Quinn’s troubled anti-violence initiative, and Medicaid reform advocates rolled out a new initiative to reduce costs and improve the quality of care.
In other action, a group of Senate and House lawmakers filed legislation to earmark unexpected revenue increases to pay down the state’s backlog of bills, including court-ordered back pay that represents the state’s oldest bill. The state Board of Education also released much-anticipated funding estimates for controversial legislation that would radically redistribute school-aid dollars.
Bipartisan Move on Subpoena Powers
The bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission approved two motions May 6 to grant subpoena powers for the committee’s audit of Quinn’s failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI). The action is the latest development involving the controversial NRI program, which has already sparked a highly-critical state audit, at least two criminal investigations and an Anderson Cooper CNN investigation.
The Commission voted 10-1 to create a bipartisan subcommittee of the panel to approve subpoenas for this audit. This power will enable the commission to call witnesses and request documents and records with the force of law.
Moratorium on Medicaid Expansion
Frustrated with the failure of Quinn to implement the broad Medicaid reforms set forth in the 2011 law and the 2012 SMART Act—even as he advocates for an extension of the Democrats’ 67% tax increase—Medicaid reform advocates rolled out a new initiative May 8. The plan would place a moratorium on all Medicaid expansions, including benefit increases, until a 2011 managed care requirement is achieved.
Legislation is being filed that would expand and extend the current moratorium on Medicaid expansions to specifically include a moratorium on benefit increases until the Department of Healthcare and Family Services meets a 50% managed care mandate by the legally established January 1, 2015, deadline.
There is an added sense of urgency because of recent meetings in which majority Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives have been pushing for further unraveling of the agreed-to reforms.
In 2011, only 7% of Medicaid enrollees were in a managed care program, leaving the majority of Medicaid enrollees without a medical “home,” with many relying on more costly emergency room care.
In response, the 2011 Medicaid reforms mandated that within four years, managed care enrollment was statutorily required to reach 50%. Well over three years later, and quickly approaching the end-of-year deadline, the number in managed care stands at an abysmal 16%.
This lagging enactment is indicative of the program’s overall implementation. Many provisions in the SMART Act have been ignored and program expansions have continued. Provisions limiting the number of prescriptions have not been enforced, and the third-party vendor hired to scrub the Medicaid rolls was relieved of its duties—despite saving the state more than $86 million after only reviewing 25% of total Medicaid cases.
Earmark New Dollars for Bill Backlog
Legislation was filed May 7 that would allow the Illinois Comptroller to use unexpected revenue to reduce the state’s backlog of old bills, including $112 million in back wages that courts have said the state owes.
The most recent revenue forecasts from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability show the state taking in $1.2 billion more than expected. Senate Bill 3657 would earmark the $1.2 billion to reduce the state’s bill backlog, including $112 million to pay the past due wages – which represent the oldest bills the state owes.
The $1.2 billion represents one-time revenues that will not be available in future years. Using the money to reduce the bill backlog would be more responsible than plugging the dollars into the state budget to pay for new programs or program expansions that cannot be sustained in future years.
School Funding Controversy
A controversial rewrite of the state’s system of funding schools advanced out of a Senate Committee to an uncertain future before the full Senate.
Passed by the Executive Committee May 7, Senate Bill 16 would radically redistribute education dollars in the state, stripping many suburban school districts of 80% or more of their state funding. Figures provided by the Illinois State Board of Education show that Senate Bill 16 would cut state funding for schools in the 25th Senate District by about 41%.
Although the measure had its roots in a bipartisan effort to address inequities in the state’s school-aid formula, the legislation has morphed into a partisan plan that could exacerbate existing inequities in funding and force taxpayers statewide to subsidize pension payments for Chicago teachers.
The measure takes the state’s already complicated school-aid formula and makes it more complicated. It offers no relief from state imposed mandates that would give districts more flexibility to control costs and allocate available resources. It also fails to address problems in the state’s Property Tax Extension Limitation Law grant program.
We did not receive district-by-district information on the impact of the plan until shortly before the measure was pushed through committee. We will be reviewing the numbers and consulting with local school officials before proceeding, although an initial review seemed to indicate the proposal could politicize the school funding formula, pitting schools districts against one another and placing political expediency ahead of educational policy.