Lawmakers return to Springfield April 29, entering a month-long stretch before a scheduled May 31 adjournment.
However, over the two-week “break” from legislative session, members of the Senate budget committees have continued to meet—providing Democrat lawmakers with a forum to continue building their case for an extension of their 2011 “temporary” tax increase.
In other news, Illinois’ unemployment rate saw minor improvement, and the Associated Press revealed the Quinn Administration had paid out $12 million in Medicaid benefits for deceased recipients.
Illinois’ unemployment eases; business leaders caution improvement is tenuous
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its March 2014 unemployment figures recently, showing Illinois employment numbers have improved slightly. The state now has a minor edge over Rhode Island, which boasts the worst employment numbers, and Nevada, with the second worst.
At 8.4 percent, down from 8.7 in February, the state has seen some improvement. However, heading into the final weeks of the spring legislative session, that fragile progress may be in jeopardy as decisions are made in earnest on the state budget, taxes and economic policies that will have a significant impact on job creation in Illinois.
While House Speaker Michael Madigan recently said that there isn’t currently enough legislative support in the House for controversial proposals to extend the state’s income tax increase or raise the minimum wage, Democrats have continued to paint a dire picture of Illinois finances as a way to both justify and generate support for an extension of their 2011 income tax increase. Republicans have countered that there are still areas in the budget where reductions could be made, pointing out Democrats continue to simultaneously advocate for new and increased spending.
In fact, prominent business leaders recently sat down with the Chicago Sun-Times to discuss a number of the regulatory and tax proposals being floated in Springfield. Representatives from the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association all expressed concerns over the plethora of tax increases—ranging from making permanent the personal income tax increase, to higher taxes on soda and motor fuel—to regulatory measures that would increase red tape and place additional cost burdens on employers.
Mark Denzler, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, told the Sun-Times that the “proposals could mean death by a thousand cuts,” which he points out is particularly worrisome as the state already has “one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.”
Audit reveals continued waste in Illinois Medicaid—$12M paid for deceased recipients
The Quinn Administration’s ongoing efforts to seemingly disassemble the 2012 bipartisan Medicaid reforms drew renewed attention when news outlets reported that a recent audit revealed that $12 million in taxpayer dollars were used for Medicaid services for nearly 3,000 deceased Illinoisans.
An internal state government memo obtained by the Associated Press reported an estimated $12 million in Medicaid overpayments have been made for services to approximately 2,900 people after the date of their deaths. The state auditor compared Medicaid clients enrolled in June 2013 to death records stretching back to 1970 in order to identify the overpayments.
The Governor has assured taxpayers the state will get back every dollar that was improperly allocated, but only about $7 million has been recovered so far.
In an effort to preserve Medicaid services for the state’s poor and medically needy, Senate Republicans spearheaded a bipartisan reform package in 2012 that included hiring an outside entity to verify Medicaid eligibility. This legislative measure was designed to identify and remove ineligible recipients from the Medicaid rolls to reduce overall costs and ensure the longevity of the program for Illinoisans who truly need medical assistance.
However, since signing the bill into law the Quinn Administration has been backpedaling on these reforms. In late 2013, the Administration secretly negotiated a plan with AFSCME that would eventually halt the state’s redetermination efforts using an outside vendor.
Governor Quinn’s reversal of these reforms has slowed scrubbing of the Medicaid rolls, allowing for more fraudulent claims and errors to be made due to lax state government oversight. Senate Republicans noted that under Maximus, the third party vendor charged with reviewing Medicaid enrollees’ status, the state had removed nearly 40 percent of the first 315,728 cases reviewed by both Maximus and state employees.