State Roundup: Special election dates set

From Illinois News Network

Residents of the 18th Congressional District better use a pencil to mark calendars for a primary and a special election.

Governor Bruce Rauner has announced the dates for a special election to replace outgoing Congressman Aaron Schock, but the governor says the dates could be delayed.

Rauner announced June 8 for the special primary and July 24 for the special election. However, those dates could be pushed back by several weeks in order to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act.

In a release late Tuesday, Rauner’s office says the Attorney General and State Board of Elections are working with the Department of Justice on a consent decree to address the issue of a special election to replace Schock while ensuring active duty and other absentee citizens can cast their ballots.

The Republican congressman’s last day in office was Tuesday. Schock resigned his position amid questions of how he spent taxpayer and donor dollars.

Auditor: Lax controls could lead to federal fund suspension

The state’s Auditor General warns that lax internal controls in several state agencies could lead to federal dollars being used inappropriately or even suspended.

In a review of state government agencies that spend federal dollars, the Auditor’s office looked at 384 different federal programs using twenty-three-point-six billion dollars in Fiscal Year 2014. Eleven state agencies accounted for nearly 99 percent of all federal dollars.

Topping that list were the departments of Healthcare and Family Services, Human Services, Employment Security, Board of Education and Department of Transportation. Of the 69 issues the Auditor found, 13 are classified as having significant compliance deficiencies.

The rest were considered material weaknesses. The most findings, including repeats from previous audits, were in DHS.

Auditor: DHS didn’t reevaluate aid participant eligibility properly

The report says the DHS failed to reevaluate participant eligibility for several aid programs, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid Cluster programs.

The statewide audit says DHS also had inadequate control over case file documents, failed to locate case file documents supporting eligibility for several programs and made improper payment to beneficiaries of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, among others.

Nearly 30 percent of required eligibility checks for Medicaid were not performed properly, according to the report. The Auditor says that results in ineligible beneficiaries being funded by federal dollars.

There were also weak internal controls for eligibility for SNAP and other programs which are part of nearly $9 billion in spending. The Auditor says the state could be assessed dollars due to lost, misplaced or improperly determined beneficiary awards.

The Auditor also says the Department of Healthcare and Family Services failed to locate documentation supporting eligibility for beneficiaries of CHIP and Medicaid.

Community college appropriations increased for next year

More than one-million students being served by Illinois community colleges will see plenty of homework, but one thing they aren’t expected to see is a decrease of state money for their schools.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week Karen Hunter Anderson, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board, says they are grateful for the continued funding to help invest in affordable education through community colleges across the state. Republican Senator Chapin Rose asked if he heard Anderson correctly.

“Did I hear you say that you’re here not complaining about a budget cut?” Rose said.

“We are not complaining,” Anderson said.

“And would that be because one of the quickest, cheapest ways is to get people to work in Illinois is to put them through our community college system and get them a certificate in very short order to a good job with benefits?” Rose said.

“Absolutely,” Anderson replied.

“Good job,” Rose said.

“Thank you,” Anderson said.

The proposed budget for ICCB is over $400 million, an increase of $5.8 million from the previous fiscal year.

City Colleges: Base funding on success, not enrollment

Community College enrollment shouldn’t be the only driver for determining the return on investment, the state should base success, and dollars, on the outcomes of Community College students getting degrees and advanced certificates. That’s according to a representative from City Colleges of Chicago.

Chancellor Cherly Hyman says funding from the Illinois Community College Board is based on student enrollment. But Hyman says what is more important is the success of community college students.

“In my mind two questions should drive funding: Are more students getting a degree or certificate? And does that degree or certificate advance their economic prospects? These questions are the questions at the heart of reinvention. We should ask these questions when it comes to funding.”

Hyman says the General Assembly appropriated several hundred million dollars for community colleges, but none of the funds were based on academic performance.

Senators discuss subsidizing Chicago community colleges more than others

Meanwhile Senator Rose worried that low tuition at some community colleges is being subsidized unfairly.

“It’s hard to continue to justify an eighty-nine dollar tuition rate when everyone else’s tuition rate, and I would venture to guess most of the people on this committee, their local community college is far in excess of eighty-nine dollars per credit hour.”

Rose says over the last decade the budgets have penalized downstate and suburban community college while subsidizing schools in Chicago. But Senator Dan Kotowski says there needs to be further examination of the issues.

“The economic situation of students that are attending community colleges across the state of Illinois, even across districts that have more resources than many, you have the vast majority of students attending community college because they can’t afford four-year schools. So, I think a broader discussion needs to be had about this.”

Kotowski also says the discussion shouldn’t only be about subsidies, but about unfunded mandates for schools downstate. Representatives from City Colleges of Chicago say that even with more than one-hundred-thousand enrolled students, and having the lowest tuition in the state, there are still students who can’t afford the tuition expense.

Less corn expected for next harvest

Intended corn planting may be down two percent from the year before. The Illinois Department of Agriculture says this could result in the lowest acreage of corn planted since 2006. However, planned soybean planting is expected to be up one percent from the previous year. Sorghum is expected to be up 74 percent, winter wheat is expected to be down nineteen percent and oats up fourteen percent from the previous year. Hay producers are expected to harvest two percent less than the year before.

Growth in NE Illinois overshadows slow growth elsewhere

The vast majority of the state’s jobs growth is in the northeastern part of the state, masking job losses in several downstate areas. That’s according to the latest data released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The report says for a solid year the state’s unemployment rate has fallen in every metro area. For 11 consecutive months every county in Illinois has seen a drop in unemployment. But, IDES Director Jeff Mays points out nearly 85 percent of the state’s job growth was in northeastern Illinois which overshadows slower growth throughout the state. Danville grew the fastest at 3.5 percent while Carbondale-Marion saw decreased growth of 0.7 percent.

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