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Representatives Launch Petition Against SB16

Several suburban State Representatives have launched an on-line petition to gather signatures against SB16. As written and approved in the IL Senate, SB16 would strip millions away from hundreds of Illinois school districts and channel the money toward Chicago and downstate schools. DuPage County schools stand to lose approximately $140 million if this bill is approved and signed into law.

SB16 is a massive rewrite of the school funding formula that determines how General State Aid (GSA) is distributed to Illinois’ school districts. It does not add any additional funding toward education.  In its current form, it is very punitive to collar county taxpayers who already shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost of educating Illinois children. If you have not already signed the petition, please go to and sign it today. I would appreciate it if you would also take the added step of sharing the petition link with your friends. Your voice is important on this issue.

In addition to helping with the petition drive, I am the Chief Sponsor of HouseResolution 1276, a measure that denounces SB16 and encourages a comprehensive and fair funding reform process that is inclusive of all stakeholder points of view. I believe there is no gray area with SB16. Lawmakers either support it or they oppose it, and if they oppose it, they should be listed as a sponsor on HR1276. I would encourage you to contact members of the House of Representatives and ask them to vote against SB16 and to sign on as a sponsor of HR1276. A full list of House of Representative members can be found at, under the House Members link. By clicking on each Representative’s name, an email address and phone number should be available.

Ebola Hotline Launched; Ebola Screenings Begin at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport 

The Illinois Department of Public Health opened a toll-free hotline on Thursday, October 16 to answer the public’s questions about the Ebola virus.  The hotline number is 1-800-889-3931.  Read more on this story at The Caucus Blog.

The hotline will be staffed by members of the Illinois Poison Control Center.  They will be able to answer standard questions about Ebola, its symptoms, how it is transmitted, and what is being done to prevent it from coming to Illinois or to contain it if it gets here.  The high level of public concern about this virus could lead to significant waiting times on the hotline.  The hotline will not practice medicine over the phone and specialized questions about the viral outbreak should be shared with health care professionals.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has expanded its Ebola screening system to cover arrivals at O’Hare International Airport.  The four international airports where screenings were set began on Thursday, October 16 serve Atlanta, Chicago, Newark, and Washington, D.C.  Screenings had previously been set in place at New York City’s Kennedy Airport.

Metra Chief Calls for 68% Fare Hike over 10-Year Period 

The most recent Metra board meeting revealed a proposed plan which would include significant fare hikes over an extended period of time to address certain system needs. Funds from the fare hike would cover a variety of fiscal challenges, including the replacement of much of the system’s rolling stock.  52 locomotives would be bought, and 85 would be rebuilt.  367 new passenger cars would be purchased, and 455 cars would be rehabilitated.  I am a member of the House Mass Transit Committee, and while I am aware of Metra’s equipment needs, I am deeply concerned with the level of the proposed fare hike. I believe most riders who rely on Metra for their daily travel to and from work would find the kind of increases Metra is proposing to be excessive and unaffordable. 

The fare-hike plan was presented by Metra Chairman Martin Oberman on Thursday, October 9, and Metra’s board approved the hike package by a vote of 10-1.  The proposed fare hike would create financial backing to borrow $400 million in debt, which would be an essential element of the overall $2.4 billion financing plan.  More than half of the required funds, $1.3 billion, would come from the State of Illinois.  Further tax and fee hikes could be required to cover this state aid program.   

Crain’s Chicago Business has more information on the fare hike request.

Sandack Presents Honorary Resolution to Darien-Woodridge Fire District

Last week I had the honor of presenting the Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District with a House Resolution recognizing their recent receipt of the 2013 Life Safety Award. The award, given out annually by the National Association of State Fire Marshals’ Fire Research and Education Foundation and the Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, recognizes those departments who have shown an extraordinary commitment to fire prevention efforts in their communities. To be considered for the award, a department must have a record of zero fire-related deaths in residential structures or a 10% reduction in fire deaths in their districts over a one-year period. The departments must also document active and effective fire prevention programs in their communities. Congratulations to the hard-working men and women from the Darien-Woodridge Fire Department!

Sentiment Shifting Towards Routine Police Use of Body Cameras in Field 

With the recent introduction of light, durable digital video collection devices, voices are starting to be heard calling for increased use of these devices in day-to-day police work by officers on active duty.  The presentation of videos showing interaction between police officers and the general public in real time could provide additional information to investigators and courts of law, particularly in situations where only two persons were present and both have different memories of what was said and done.

Recent events have led to renewed discussions about the issuance of body cameras to police officers as a component of their uniform.  Questions remain on the budgetary consequences of the move, the move’s impact on police labor relations, and under what circumstances (if any) the use of police body cameras should be mandated in the field.  I sit on the House Judiciary Committee, where a hearing  was held Friday, October 17 about the issue.

Rep. Sandack and Senator Connelly Speak at Lisle Chamber Meeting

On October 16, I joined Senator Michael Connelly in giving a “State of the State” address to members of the Lisle Chamber of Commerce. We spoke of the challenges facing Illinois, highlights from our most recent legislative session, and about issues that may come up during the November Veto Session and a January Lame Duck Session.

Use the link above to listen to Rep. Ron Sandack talking about the NRI hearings on the Riley and Scot Radio Show on WROK. Sandack is a member of the legislative audit commission, and questioned the seven witnesses subpoenaed to testify at the October 8-9 hearings.

As a member of the bipartisan and bicameral Legislative Audit Commission, last week I spent two full days in Chicago for hearings into Governor Quinn’s failed and disgraced Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) program. During the first day of hearings, which included 12-hours of testimony, we questioned four key members of the Quinn inner-circle who had ties to the NRI initiative.  

The first to testify was Barbara Shaw, the former Director of the IL Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA), the agency tasked with the implementation of the NRI program. While Shaw is a passionate advocate for anti-violence programs, both the audit findings and the subsequent release of NRI-related emails did not support all of her claims of success and “excellent work” that was done with the NRI program. Her testimony confirmed lax oversight with regard to time cards and the metrics used for distribution of funds.

On Wednesday we also heard from Billy Ocasio, a former senior advisor to Governor Quinn and former 26th Ward Chicago Alderman. Ocasio’s memory seemed to fail him under oath, as he could not recall key details about his involvement in NRI. Warren Ribley, former Director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), also testified. Ribley was questioned about $5 million in federal disaster relief funds that ended up as NRI-related microloans just for Chicago. U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is calling for a deeper investigation into what appears to be an inappropriate use of funds regarding those microloans.

The final person to provide testimony on Wednesday was Malcolm Weems, former Director of Central Management Services (CMS) and former Chief of Staff for the Governor’s Office of Management & Budgets (GOMB). Weems testified that unexpended funds from one fiscal year were added to unappropriated funds at IVPA, a move that the Auditor General said was a violation of the IL Finance Act. Weems was asked if NRI money was distributed before the 2010 election, and his response was “not that I know of.” This testimony contradicted information from the Auditor General’s report, which pointed to the minutes from an IVPA board meeting in Sept. 2010 which included the following: “Malcolm explained that the governor’s office is committed to allocating some of the funds immediately and will allocate the rest after the election.”

On the second day, the audit commission received testimony from three final witnesses. First up was Jack Lavin, Quinn’s former Chief of Staff, Chief Operations Officer, and DCEO Director. I questioned Lavin at length about an email he sent to Quinn’s campaign manager that discussed how the NRI program fit into the Quinn campaign plan with African American voters. A September 5, 2010 email from Lavin to Quinn’s campaign manager Ben Nuckels said, “If we are trying to get the base out and that’s the key to our victory, we better prioritize correctly. The African-American community tends to break late so we have some time. The Gov’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative will also help on the jobs and anti-violence messages.” Lavin claimed that the email was meant to educate the campaign only, and that it was not an indication that the program was being launched in an effort to gain votes.

Lavin’s testimony was followed by testimony by Dr. Toni Irving, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Gov. Quinn, and Andrew Ross, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Quinn. Ross displayed a shocking loss of memory when he repeatedly responded to questioning that he did not recall, that it was more than four years ago and that he had no recollection of numerous emails sent to him regarding NRI. Those emails, now in the hands of audit commission members, indicated that Ross was involved in an attempt to minimize the political fallout to Quinn from the brewing NRI scandal.

While some key discoveries were made during the 18 hours of testimony, those of us who serve on the Legislative Audit Commission were left with more questions than answers when the testimony concluded on Thursday. First and foremost, we learned that in spite of Governor Quinn’s insistence that the NRI program was not a political tool to help gin up the vote shortly before his 2010 re-election, the Lavin email to Ben Nuckels proved that the program was indeed discussed as part of Quinn’s election strategy. We also learned that for those closest to the program, getting the NRI money out fast was decidedly more important than giving the process the necessary and careful consideration needed to allow for appropriate and proper disbursement of funds.

Questions that remain unanswered include:

·         Who is responsible for the creation of the NRI program?
·         What metric was used to determine which agencies/groups received NRI funds?
·         Whose decision was it to have Chicago Aldermen decide which agencies could apply for funds?
·         How did an initial budget allocation of $10 million quickly grow to $50 million?
·         Who authorized the inappropriate transfer of unexpended funds across fiscal year budgets?
·         Why, when a free program audit was available, did Shaw instead choose to spend $500,000 on an audit that did not even gauge whether violent crime statistics went down as a result of the program?
·         Why did seven of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods receive zero NRI funds?

Moving forward, we learned that as legislators we must make some changes in how we allocate and monitor expenditures. Through the failures of the NRI program, we now know that we cannot give the Governor a “lump sum” budget. Most of the financial problems surrounding the NRI fiasco could have been prevented or lessened if specific line item budgeting was in place for those funds. We also know that moving forward the General Assembly must require significantly more detailed financial controls and more careful monitoring of how grant money is dispersed and spent.

Auditor General William Holland is to be commended for the depth and comprehensive nature of his audit into the NRI program. These audits are valuable tools that inevitably point out opportunities for improvement and efficiencies within our state agencies and systems. Unfortunately, too often in Illinois our audits also uncover waste, fraud and abuse. Personally, I would like to see more audits, so the taxpayers of Illinois are better protected from the lack of accountability, transparency and professionalism shown with the roll-out neighborhood recovery initiative.

The current NRI audit will remain open while the Commission receives additional documents, and looking ahead, the audit of years three and four of NRI will be considered next spring. The Commission is well within its right to keep the audit open, much like the impeachment committee did after former Gov. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

There remain two ongoing federal investigations into NRI by the U.S. Attorneys for the Central and Northern Districts of Illinois, as well as an investigation by the Cook County State’s Attorney.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation is apparently questioning participants in the NRI program as well.
At the conclusion of 18 hours of testimony before the General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Commission about Governor Pat Quinn’s disgraced Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers) said he was incredibly disappointed at the lack of information provided by those who were subpoenaed to testify.

“Over the last two days, we heard from seven witnesses who were closely tied to the roll-out and execution of the NRI program,” said Sandack. “We sought to get to the bottom of how such gross mismanagement was possible and who was responsible for the failings in the program. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I left the hearings with many nagging questions that remained unanswered.”

Audit commission members spent 12 hours on Wednesday and another six hours on Thursday asking questions of seven witnesses from the Quinn inner-circle who were tied to the NRI program. House Republicans on the panel led the questioning as it related to key deficiencies outlined in the Auditor General’s scathing February report into the NRI program.

“In spite of these individuals’ clear connections to the NRI program, not one of them could tell the audit commission who came up with the idea for the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative,” Sandack said. “No one was willing to take ownership of it, and no one could produce the metric that was used in selecting the communities and agencies that received millions in grant funds. Witnesses were also mum on how an initial budget investment of $10 million quickly grew to a $50 million allocation, and exactly who authorized an unexpended fund transfer that violates the Illinois Finance Act.”

Sandack said he was also hoping to learn how and why Chicago Aldermen became key influencers into what agencies received money and why proposals for funds were only sought from certain community groups while others were shut out of the grant request process.

Sandack admitted that some important lessons were learned through the two days of testimony. “First and foremost, we learned that in spite of the Governor’s insistence that the NRI program was not put in place to help him get re-elected, subpoenaed emails from his former Chief of Staff Jack Lavin showed that quite the opposite is true. Lavin wrote to members of the Quinn campaign about reaching out to African-American voters and said the NRI program would ‘help on the jobs and anti-violence messages.’ We also learned that the top priority for the NRI program was distributing the money quickly rather than giving the process the necessary and careful consideration needed to ensure appropriate and fair disbursement.”

Moving forward, Sandack said legislators must make some changes in how they allocate and monitor expenditures. “Through the failures in the NRI program, we know we cannot give the Governor a lump sum budget,” said Sandack. “Most of the financial problems surrounding NRI could have been prevented or lessened if specific line item budgeting was in place for those funds. We also know that moving forward the General Assembly must require significantly more detailed financial controls and more careful monitoring of how grant money is disbursed and spent. Speed in distribution of funds must never again trump proper planning and oversight when it comes to the use of taxpayer dollars.”
After 12 full hours of testimony on Wednesday into Governor Pat Quinn’s disgraced Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), House Republicans on the Legislative Audit Commission were left with more questions than answers and continue to demand accountability for the failings of the program.

In day one of two days of testimony, members of the bipartisan and bicameral commission heard from four of seven witnesses who were subpoenaed to appear before them. While issues brought up in the Auditor General’s report into the program, such as hasty implementation, lax oversight and poor record keeping, were largely confirmed as accurate, members did not receive testimony into how the failings occurred and who was responsible.

“On a large scale, day one was very disappointing because witnesses failed to provide answers,” said commission member Representative Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst). “The Auditor General’s audit findings pointed out some alarming deficiencies with how the program was executed, and we have a duty to discover how it was possible for such gross mismanagement to occur, and take whatever steps are necessary to protect Illinois taxpayers and ensure better financial controls are in place in the future.”

According to audit commission member David Reis (R-Olney), those testifying were quick to point out the need for violence prevention programs in Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods, but no one was willing to take any ownership of the idea for the NRI program.

“All four witnesses were asked whose idea the NRI program was, and no one would own it or point to the originator of the idea,” he said. “I find it very improbable that those with the most direct involvement with the execution of the program did not know who came up with the idea in the first place.”

State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said the citizens of Illinois deserve answers into the key questions surrounding NRI. “We spent 12 hours yesterday gathering testimony from those closest to the program, with more than five of those hours spent on Barbara Shaw, the primary manager of the NRI program,” Sandack said. “Going into day two, we still don’t know what metric was used in choosing the agencies that received NRI funds. The only thing that became abundantly clear is that Ms. Shaw was absolutely more concerned with distributing the money quickly than with giving the process the necessary and careful consideration needed to allow for appropriate and proper disbursement.”

Sandack went on to say that he is hopeful that other unanswered questions will be answered today, when the three final witnesses are called to testify. “We need to get to the bottom of some very unsettling issues that remain, such as how an initial budget allocation for anti-violence of $10 million quickly grew to $50 million and why Chicago Aldermen were involved in the fund disbursement process,” said Sandack. “We also need to unearth the process through which unexpended funds were improperly moved across fiscal year budgets, which is a direct violation of the State Finance Act. 

Additionally, the taxpayers of Illinois deserve to know why, when a free program audit was available, Shaw decided to spend $500,000 on an audit that didn’t event gauge whether violent crime statistics went down as a result of the program.”

The audit commission resumes their hearings at 9:00 AM today at the Bilandic Building in downtown Chicago.
State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) has posted an on-line petition in opposition of Senate Bill 16, a bill that would strip millions away from hundreds of Illinois school districts and channel the money toward other schools. DuPage County schools stand to lose a total of approximately $140 million through the provisions of the bill.

The petition is available on Sandack’s legislative web site at and citizens from across the state are encouraged to sign it.

SB16 is a massive rewrite of the school funding formula that determines how General State Aid (GSA) is distributed to Illinois’ school districts. It does not add any additional funding toward education. As written and approved in the Senate, the bill uses a weighted formula that is punitive to most suburban school districts.

“Senate Bill 16 is not just bad for DuPage County,” said Sandack. “More than half of Illinois’ school districts stand to lose funding through SB16,” said Sandack. “This bill does not solve current inequities within the formula, but merely redistributes funds to create a new list of winners and losers.”

Sandack is the Chief Sponsor of House Resolution 1276, a measure that denounces SB16 and encourages a comprehensive and fair funding reform process that is inclusive of all stakeholder points of view. “SB16 is nothing more than a piecemeal reallocation of State resources that will impact hundreds of school districts and cause deep budget reductions and financial uncertainty,” Sandack said. “HR1276 calls for a more equitable and reasonable approach to education funding reform that extends outside of the parameters of SB16’s GSA redistribution. School funding is a serious issue and our ultimate reforms should be done in a way that allows all students to be winners.”
Legislative Audit Commission to Resume Hearings on Quinn’s NRI Scandal
I serve on the bipartisan and bicameral Legislative Audit Commission (LAC), and this week we will be holding hearings on Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago to continue our inquiry into Governor Quinn’s  scandal-ridden “Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.”  NRI was a $54.5 million taxpayer-funded program, and revelations about the program’s operation indicate that money officially allocated to violence-reduction initiatives in challenged neighborhoods may actually have been expended as political walking-around money.  NRI spending peaked during the weeks just before and after the November 2010 gubernatorial election, in which Pat Quinn won election to a full term by a margin of less than 1 percent of the statewide electorate.
The most recent Audit Commission hearing on the NRI scandal was partially pre-empted by a request from the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois that witnesses not be made to answer sensitive questions in public prior to the U.S. Attorney completing some preliminary investigative work.  It is believed that this request was made in conjunction with an ongoing criminal inquiry into the same scandal.  The top federal prosecutor in central Illinois has now withdrawn this request, thereby authorizing key subpoenaed witnesses to be questioned.  Commission co-chairman Sen. Jason Barickman anticipates that the roll of witnesses to be called before us for testimony will include former Quinn chief of staff Jack Lavin.  A Chicago Tribune article on this developing story, published on Monday, September 29, can be found here.
Sandack Serves as Principal for a Day at Downers Grove Elementary School
On Oct. 3, I had an opportunity to step into the shoes of school principals and experience the day in the life of a top school administrator. I spent the morning at Kingsley Elementary School in Downers Grove District 58 and had a great time visiting with teachers and students from several classrooms. The Principal for a Day program, made possible through the Illinois Principals Association, allows elected officials to observe, interact and serve as an administrator within their legislative district. I had a great time talking with kindergarten and 4th grade students and had an opportunity to meet and talk with several gifted teachers and support staff members.
Illinois Labeled “49th of 50” in New Business Ranking
The report from the Chicago-based American Economic Development Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, rated Illinois and California as the worst of the 50 states in which to do business.  The Institute ranked states by state education levels, taxes and regulations, and government incentives for businesses. 
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) backed up and explained the low ranking. State NFIB director Kim Maisch pointed to Illinois’ January 2011 income tax increase, new regulatory burdens, and a threatened increase in mandated minimum-wage rates.  A news story on the ranking, published on Friday, September 26, can be found here.
UIUC Medical School Proposedllinois currently has seven medical schools that grant M.D. degrees.  Six are located in the greater Chicago area and one, the SIU School of Medicine, is located in Springfield.  The University of Illinois College of Medicine operates in Chicago’s “medical campus” on the Near West Side and is affiliated with UIC, the U of I’s Chicago campus.
With the goal of creating a second Downstate-based medical school under the umbrella of the University of Illinois, the university system’s executive staff is looking at its Urbana-Champaign campus area.  The university’s leadership is said to have developed a preliminary business plan and obtained preliminary affiliate ties for the proposed medical school.  The Chicago Tribune has more about the proposal here.
The Urbana-Champaign financial plan is expected to include assurances that the proposed new U of I medical school will not rely on State of Illinois funding.  Under one proposed pathway, the new school would leverage the University’s existing expertise in physical engineering to specialize in medical device research and development. 
Sandack Talks Politics and Citizen Responsibility with Downers Grove North Students
Last week I visited Mr. Larry Baca’s Consumer Economics class at Downers Grove North High School and spoke to an inquisitive group of students about government and the importance of becoming an involved and informed citizens. I also talked about how I personally got into politics and spent some time talking with them about current bills, including SB16, a school funding reform bill that has the potential to greatly impact their education. The students in this class asked a lot of great questions and I was incredibly impressed with their understanding of current issues.
Governance of Lincoln Museum Questioned in General Assembly Hearing
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is the world’s foremost site that celebrates the life and achievements of our 16th President.  The library-museum complex offers live-action displays on Lincoln’s fellow Americans as they prepared for and fought the Civil War.  The museum’s 200,000 square feet of storage and exhibit space also offers ample room for permanently protecting papers and memorabilia generated by, or connected to, Lincoln and the generations of Americans connected to him.
Under current law, the Lincoln Library is a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  On Wednesday, October 1, the Library’s private-sector partners told a House hearing that they are concerned by the direction the Agency is taking the Library.  While other U.S. repositories of historic treasures (such as Virginia’s Mount Vernon) are physically expanding and/or enjoying generous donations from the public, gifts to the Lincoln Library’s fundraising arm are in decline.  The private partners of the Library, organized as a 501(c)(3) entity, assert that the Library’s substantial staff vacancies and the lack of a comprehensive strategic plan for the museum are adding to questions about the Lincoln Library’s future course.   A report on the hearing by the Associated Press can be found here.
First Medical Cannabis Approval Letters Go Out
The Illinois Department of Public Health and allied State departments have been moving through the process of asking for applications from potential patients for a medical cannabis card, possession of which will be required to enter a licensed cannabis dispensary.  Applications from patients with a last name starting with the letters A through L are being accepted through October 31, 2014, and the first patient approval letters have been mailed.  The Joliet Herald-Newshas the story.  Applications from patients with last names starting with the letter M through Z will be accepted starting November 1. 
Meanwhile, the State has received 369 applications for cultivation center (“grow-op”) and dispensary licenses.  158 applications were for cannabis growing center permits, and 211 applications were for the licenses to be granted to dispensaries – retail centers for the transfer of marijuana to card-carrying patients.  81 licenses, carefully sorted by geographic area, will be awarded.  21 of the licenses will be for cultivation centers, and up to 60 licenses will be awarded to dispensaries.  Cultivation center applicants were required to submit nonrefundable fees of $25,000, to which will be added first-year registration fees of $200,000 from successful applicants.  Dispensary applicants were asked to submit nonrefundable fees of $5,000; approved applicants will be required to pay first-year registration fees of $30,000.  Applicants were required to submit extensive information on key personnel for criminal background checks, and were required to demonstrate how they would comply with the stringent security precautions mandated by State law.  The deadline for submitting an application to operate a cultivation center or dispensary closed on Monday, September 22, and no further applications will be accepted.
The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act was enacted in the 2013 spring session.  The current status of the grow-op and dispensary licensure process is summarized by the Chicago Tribune here.
Sandack Serves as Grand Marshal for 2014 Ray Graham Monarch WalkOn September 28, I had the distinct pleasure as serving as the Grand Marshal for the 2014 Ray Graham Association’s Monarch Walk at the stadium at North Central College in Naperville. I was joined at this annual event by hundreds of participants who helped in raising valuable funds for this very worthwhile organization. Ray Graham Association supports more than 2,000 DuPage County residents and their families to live and contribute in their community. Through a variety of innovative programs provided by Ray Graham Association, children and adults with disabilities are becoming vibrant and active members of the communities in which they live.