A highly critical audit of a program Governor Pat Quinn promoted as a way to reduce violence in Chicago neighborhoods prompted Senate and House Republicans this week to urge the Auditor General to refer the findings to the Executive Inspector General for further evaluation.
In addition, a closer look at the February 2014 audit of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) and a related audit suggests potential criminal activity could merit additional review by the U.S. Attorney.
Critics labeled the program “a political slush fund” and suggested that the audits contained information that could easily lead to indictments.
According to the Auditor General, the $54.55 million NRI program was “hastily implemented” with “pervasive deficiencies in the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s planning, implementation, and management.”
The audits also found Governor Quinn broke state law when he shuffled funds among various accounts in order to circumvent the legislature’s authority to annually appropriate General Fund dollars.
In effect, the Governor was able to create a non-appropriated slush fund of $91 million that he could use in future fiscal years without having to request that the General Assembly re-appropriate those dollars. Approximately $45 million was eventually given to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. (IVPA Compliance Audit, for two years ended June 30, 2012; pages 10-14; Released 2/25/14. Finding 12-1.)
Additionally, the audit noted financial reporting mechanisms that would have monitored the spending of the grant dollars were “ineffectively implemented…reducing their usefulness.” Notably, upward of 78 percent of NRI communities failed to maintain contractually-required caseloads, suggesting that some employees could have been paid for completing little or no work.
More about the Auditor General’s performance audit can be found on the Senate GOP Web site. More information on the controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative can also be found online, including:
• The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) Audit.
• The compliance audit of the Violence Prevention Authority.
• The 2012 four-month CNN investigation on the NRI.
Keeping Students Safe
Providing immediate and practical solutions for keeping students safe at school is the aim of legislation sponsored by Senator Tim Bivins of Dixon and approved February 27 by the Illinois Senate.
Senate Bill 2747 creates the School Security and Standards Task Force.
“More and more reports of violence at schools throughout the United States underscore the need to act now to keep our students, teachers and staff safe,” said Senator Bivins, a former Lee County Sheriff.
A law creating the Task Force passed last year, but the Governor did not make appointments to it in a timely fashion and work was not completed by a January 2, 2014, sunset date.
College Illinois! Reforms Proposed
Senator Jason Barickman of Bloomington has called for an overhaul of the College Illinois! prepaid tuition plan, saying the plan must be restructured in order to protect parents, students and taxpayers.
“This is a well-intentioned program, but it is dangerously close to financial disaster,” Senator Barickman said. “Unfortunately, parents who invest in this program think they are buying financial security for their children when in reality, just the opposite may be true.”
Senator Barickman noted that the fund ended the last fiscal year with an unfunded liability of nearly $450 million and had a funding ratio of 72.3%. Actuaries have noted that the fund must recruit between 1,000 and 2,000 new contract buyers annually in order to avoid running out of money.
To stabilize the program and protect both participants and taxpayers, Senator Barickman has filed two reforms, Senate Bill 3527 and Senate Bill 3528. Read more about College Illinois! and Senator Barickman’s legislation at his Web site.