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Comptroller Reports $5.82 Billion in Unpaid Bills
 
The October, 2014 count of unpaid bills was posted on Twitter  by Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka on Tuesday, October 21 under the Twitter hashtag #ILbillbacklog.  The past-due bill count, which can also be seen on Topinka’s Facebook page, is $500 million greater than the unpaid bill figure reported in mid-September.

Background for this number is available on the Comptroller’s monthly spreadsheet of the State’s cash-flow condition, “Monthly Money Matters.”  The $5.82 billion figure includes $2.72 billion in bills actually presented to the Comptroller for payment.  An additional $2.2 billion was in the pipeline process throughout various State agencies as of Tuesday, September 30, and additional past-due spending reflected lagging vouchers in comparison with fall 2013.  Persons interested in the State’s fiscal condition may wish to subscribe to this spreadsheet, which is updated monthly.

Meanwhile, a non-partisan oversight panel is predicting $6.4 billion in unpaid bills by June of 2015. Trends noted in October 2014 by the Chicago-based CivicFederation include Medicaid spending growth, increased expenses for non-Medicaid persons who share their health care costs with the State, the rising costs of responding to the massively underfunded State-managed pension systems, and the increased burden of Illinois public-sector debt service.  The Federation reported that Illinois’ current leadership has responded to these trends by utilizing cash flow from a “temporary” income tax hike, by further increasing various forms of short-term and long-term borrowing, and by increasing the State’s sheaf of unpaid bills to an estimated total of $6.4 billion at the end of FY15.  In addition to these unpaid bills, the enacted FY15 budget is in deficit by at least $650 million to cover the operating expenses of the State.  The State’s official documents explain that the missing money will be found by borrowing the cash from various special funds held in trust by the State for defined uses outside the General Funds.  The law requires that this money be paid back within 18 months, but no aspect of current State budgetary planning provides for raising these funds or repaying this money.  The report, by the Civic Federation’s Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability, is available here.

Illinois Hospitals Expand Anti-Ebola Training
In a statement released on Friday, October 17, the Illinois Hospital Association described their high-speed ramp up of efforts to rapidly diagnose patients infected with the Ebola virus and to protect them and their caregivers from further infectious activity.  Four Chicago teaching hospitals have been designated as treatment centers for patients with potential cases of the virus.

Performed in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Public Health, the new IHA protocol includes strict infection control procedures for the screening and isolation of diagnosed and potential patients.  For its part, IDPH has announced plans to cooperate with hospitals and other health providers on cooperation to further Ebola preparation activities in Illinois.  Preparations include the creation of protocols for screening, diagnosis, and isolation of actual and potential Ebola patients.

Noting the arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport of two travelers who have been placed under medical evaluation for Ebola virus infection, Gov. Quinn appointed a fifteen-member Ebola Task Force on Wednesday, October 22.  Members of the task force include executive public-health officials from Illinois, Cook County and the city of Chicago, clinical experts on infectious diseases, and executive representatives of the Illinois Hospital Association and the profession of nursing.  

Illinois has set up an Ebola webpage and a 24-hour hotline accessible at 1-800-889-3931.

Sandack Partners with AT&T to Present Investing in Illinois Awards
Last week I had the pleasure of partnering with AT&T and presenting the Ray Graham Association in Lisle and the Almost Home Kids Organization in Naperville with checks for $1,000. AT&T’s Investing in Illinois Award provides resources and recognition to organizations and programs in Illinois that are improving lives in their communities and the state by advancing education, economic growth, new technologies and other essential community services.

The Ray Graham Association’s cash award will be used to further
the organization’s mission of supporting the unique needs of people with disabilities and helping them reach, grow and achieve. The Almost Home Kids award will be used to support general operating needs, including providing transitional care in a home-like setting for children with complicated health needs, training for their families and respite care. I appreciate AT&T’s willingness to recognize and support the good work that these organizations are doing.
  
State Superintendent of Schools: Fully-Funded Education Budget will Require at Least an Additional $3 Billion/Year
Speaking to the Illinois Principals Association on Monday, October 20, State Superintendent of Schools Chris Koch decried what he called the drastically underfunded status of Illinois public schools and said that an allocation of an additional $3 billion to $4 billion per year in State school aid to public school districts is needed to fully fund the education budget.  The additional aid would be in addition to increased payments also due from taxpayers to the State-financed teacher pension system.     

Created in 1997, the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) is required to issue a report with its education funding recommendations in odd-numbered years.  In its 2013 report, EFAB recommended increasing revenue to schools by over $4 billion.  The next report is scheduled for January 2015 release and it is expected to again recommend an additional $4 billion for public schools.  EFAB is a five-member senior advisory panel that includes representatives of business, the general public, and the education community.  EFAB is appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.  The General Assembly is not required to appropriate sufficient funding to match the EFAB recommendation level.

Sandack Honors Distinguished Downers Grove North Alumni
As part of their week-long Homecoming celebration at Downers Grove North High School last week, on Friday I presented two outstanding DGN alumni with the 2014 Alumni Award of Excellence. The award recognizes graduates of North High School who have contributed in an exceptional manner to society in the areas of science, government, community, humanitarianism, athletics or fine arts.  This year’s recipients, Karen Laio and Kevin Michael Myles, both have exhibited outstanding leadership, character and service in their adult lives.

Karen Laio, a lifetime Downers Grove resident, taught schools for 33 years to students of all ages and ability levels. Since retiring from teaching in 2010, she has remained an active volunteer throughout the community. Kevin Michael Myles was a 1952 graduate of DGN and went on to earn bachelors and masters degrees in metallurgical engineering and a doctorate degree in philosophy in solid state physics. He directed a technical program that resulted in the creation of the lithium-ion batteries that are currently installed in all Chevy Volt electric cars. Through this work and through other work in the field of nuclear reactor fuels, he ultimately became the international energy liaison to the U.S. State Department and a trusted technical advisor to many U.S. Congressmen and Presidents. He also served in the Armed Forces, reaching the rank of major and serving in the Korean War.

Federal Government Estimates Jobless Rate of 6.6% for Illinois in September 2014
The numbers, published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security on Friday, October 17, indicate a statically insignificant change from the 6.7% posted in August.  More than 414,300 Illinois residents remained jobless and actively looking for work in September.

Illinois jobless rates remained higher than those of the United States as a whole during the same time period (U.S. jobless rate for September 2014: 5.9%).  Unemployment rates were also lower in September than Illinois’ 6.6% rate in many states that neighbor Illinois, such as Iowa (4.6%), Wisconsin (5.5%), Indiana (5.7%), and Missouri (6.3%).  The federal U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics chart for the 50 states can be found here.

The manufacturing sector continued to shrink throughout Illinois in real terms, losing 3,700 manufacturing jobs in the past year.  The Illinois government sector generated 8,800 net new jobs during the same period.  
In partnership with AT&T’s Investing in Illinois Awards Program, State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) on Tuesday presented the Ray Graham Association in Lisle and the Almost Home Kids Organization in Naperville with checks for $1,000.

AT&T’s Investing in Illinois Award provides resources and recognition to organizations and programs in Illinois that are improving lives in their communities and the state by advancing education, economic growth, new technologies and other essential community services.

The Ray Graham Association’s cash award will be used to further the organization’s mission of supporting the unique needs of people with disabilities and helping them reach, grow and achieve. The Almost Home Kids award will be used to support general operating needs, including providing transitional care in a home-like setting for children with complicated health needs, training for their families and respite care.

Both groups were nominated for the award by Representative Sandack. “We are very fortunate in this area to have organizations like the Ray Graham Association and Almost Home Kids, which empower people with disabilities and provide transitional healthcare for children with significant health needs,” said Sandack. “I appreciate AT&T’s willingness to recognize and support the good work that these organizations are doing.”

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 http://www.ilhousegop.org/sb16_petition 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 www.ilga.gov, 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.
http://1440wrok.com/state-rep-ron-sandack-recaps-the-nri-hearings-with-riley-scot-audio/

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.”