With Illinois in an economic tailspin, lawmakers say they are anxiously anticipating Governor Pat Quinn’s delayed Budget Address and the five-year plan he has said he will unveil March 26.
The Governor secured a deadline extension that allowed him to delay the Budget Address by five weeks, from its originally scheduled date of February 19 until after the March primary.
Lawmakers say they want the Governor to use the budget message to lay out a clear plan to turn the state’s economy around.
It could be a tall order, since Governor Quinn now owns one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation – higher than any neighboring state and higher than other large states. In addition, he has presided over more credit downgrades than all other Illinois Governors combined and has given Illinois the worst credit rating of any state in the nation.
Two of the nation’s largest moving companies have identified Illinois as an out-migration state – with more people moving out than moving in. A recent nationwide study also showed that Illinois had one of the worst outlooks for job creation of any state.
Rolling back tax hike is key
A key component of the plan should be the Governor’s strategy to allow the promised rollback of the state’s 67% tax hike adopted in 2011.
That tax increase has cost Illinois families a week’s pay every year since it was enacted. Republican lawmakers, who unanimously opposed the tax hike, fear the Governor and his allies will instead push for even higher taxes.
Speaker pushing higher taxes
Indeed, in the run-up to the budget message, prominent Democrats have been recommending new and higher taxes.
House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago called March 20 for a new 3% surcharge on high-income earners, which would also hit farmers and small-business owners. Democrats have also been pushing a “progressive” income tax that would likely raise taxes on most middle-income workers. A variety of other specialized taxes—such as a tax on soda, fruit juice, chocolate milk and other drinks—have also surfaced.
The tax hike plans prompted Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont to say, “Illinois Democrats’ answer to everything continues to be taking more money out of taxpayers’ pockets.”
Higher taxes, she said, haven’t been working and she noted that when the 67% tax hike passed, Governor Quinn and his allies “promised it would pay off the state’s bills. It didn’t. They promised it would improve our credit rating. It didn’t. They promised they would balance the budget. They didn’t.”
Medicaid reform reversal a bad sign
While Illinois needs to take an aggressive stance to control state spending, action in a Senate Committee during the week left a leading Medicaid reformer frustrated when Senate Democrats blocked legislation that could have put the state’s bipartisan Medicaid reforms back on track.
The reforms, which target Medicaid fraud while protecting services for qualified individuals, have been bogged down by Quinn Administration actions that undermine key aspects of the state’s Medicaid reform law.
Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon proposed legislation that addresses a 2013 labor arbitrator’s ruling that sidetracked an independent review process. Those independent reviews were a critical component of Medicaid reform and had successfully identified thousands of persons who did not meet qualifications but were still receiving taxpayer-paid Medicaid benefits.
Despite the bipartisan nature of the original Medicaid reforms, the Senate’s Human Services Committee refused to advance Senator Righter’s Senate Bill 3415.
Scrubbing of the Medicaid rolls has slowed considerably since the state assumed responsibility for conducting the audits last year. Senator Righter stressed that this slowdown jeopardizes access to healthcare for those people who truly need it, as an increasing number of doctors across Illinois choose not to accept Medicaid patients due to the lengthy backlog of state reimbursement payments to healthcare providers.
Additionally, fraud and waste in Medicaid spending continue as ineligible recipients—tens of thousands of whom no longer live in Illinois or meet basic income verification standards—continue to receive taxpayer-funded benefits.
Controversial Prison Director Confirmed
Despite a long list of concerns about his leadership, the controversial director of Illinois’ prison system won approval in the Senate March 20—with no Republican support.
After more than a year of delays and with a deadline for action fast-approaching, the Senate voted 37-18 to approve the permanent appointment of S.A. “Tony” Godinez to head the state’s Department of Corrections at a salary of more than $150,000.
Opponents pointed out that under Godinez, the Corrections Department hired a senior policy advisor who had 24 arrests, including arson, illegal gun possession, attempted robbery, drug possession and aggravated assault—and this was after the same individual was fired from the Department of Children and Family Services for sending lewd e-mails and falsifying his job application.
The Quinn Administration also hired a former Congressman’s son to act as an assistant warden though he had no experience in Corrections.
Our concerns are centered on the glaring lack of leadership by Godinez and the Governor in addressing problems within the Corrections system. Governor Quinn has closed prisons across the state and sold Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government at a bargain-basement price, even as prison overcrowding has surged to about 150% of capacity. The consolidation of prisoners and overcrowding has placed correctional workers, and prisoners themselves, at risk.