A legislative panel reviewing Governor Pat Quinn’s failed anti-violence initiative put off testimony from subpoenaed former Quinn Administration officials until October, complying with a request from the United States Attorney’s office.
I am a member of the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Audit Commission that had intended to begin hearing from seven of Governor Quinn’s former top aides on July 16. Our panel is continuing its review of the mismanaged and controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI). But after meeting July 16-17, wasting a day and a half arguing over the continuation of our subpoena power and whether the U.S. Attorney should notify us if he desired a further delay (Republican position) or instead notify us if he did not wish a further delay (Democrat position), it was finally resolved after I personally called his office to ask if our position was acceptable and was told “absolutely.” We then delayed taking testimony until October 8.
James Lewis, United States Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, asked the Legislative Audit Commission not to interview witnesses for 90 days, so as not to impact any ongoing criminal investigation conducted by his office. In the meantime, the Commission will continue to gather documents related to the program and will post those documents on the public Web site of the Audit Commission.
Grant transparency legislation
As the panel got underway, Governor Quinn sought to deflect criticism of the management of the program he started in 2010, by signing a measure intended to increase accountability in state grant awards.
House Bill 2747 creates the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act, which would adopt federal uniform rules for grants issued by state agencies. The goal is to eliminate duplicative and conflicting guidance; provide for consistent and transparent treatment of allowable costs charged to grants; set standard application processes; reduce administrative burdens; and place greater reliance on audit reports to increase efficiency in required monitoring activities.
While applauding the intent, critics raised concerns because the legislation allows the Governor to appoint the members of the board that is supposed to oversee the actions of the Governor’s administration.
Moved to Labor Department?
Grant awards have been at the heart of the controversy over the NRI, with regular news stories detailing questionable and, in some cases, fraudulent activities related to grants handed out under the program.
Although the Governor has publicly tried to put the program behind him, lawmakers point to $20 million in new spending in the current budget that they say could be used to fund a re-branded version of the same failed program. That $20 million was handed off to the Illinois Department of Labor with a vague description to fund a program that sounds almost identical to the NRI.
The cost of corruption
Critics say a recent study illustrates the cost to taxpayers of politicized programs like the NRI.
Researchers from Indiana University and City University of Hong Kong recently released a study that attempts to put a dollar figure on public corruption. Illinois was among the states studied and the professors said that in the 10 most corrupt states (with Illinois among those 10) taxpayers pay an average “corruption tax” of $1,308 per person.
State pension funds get settlement
Illinois’ troubled pension funds will get a small boost from a national settlement over problematic home loans that fed the 2008 nationwide financial crisis.
Illinois is scheduled to receive $84 million as part of a national $7 billion settlement with Citigroup Inc., over risky mortgage-backed securities. The state Teachers’ Retirement System is expected to receive $33.04 million, while the State Universities Retirement System will receive $3.12 million and $7.83 million will be paid to the board overseeing retirement systems for state employees, elected state officials and judges.
The remaining $40 million is to go to consumers, with an independent monitor appointed to oversee how the money is distributed.
Bills signed into law
Dozens of measures were signed into law recently and hundreds more are likely to be approved over the coming weeks as the annual deadline for Governor’s action approaches.
Each year, the General Assembly has 30 days to send legislation to the Governor’s desk and he has 60 days to act on the bills. Because the legislature adjourned at the end of May, that means that all measures must be either approved or vetoed by the end of August.
Information about the bills signed into law during the week of July 14-18 is available by clicking here.