State Roundup: Budget fix in current FY not yet done

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There’s another deal to fund the current fiscal year making it through the General Assembly funding various programs that recently saw grant dollars suspended. The new deal comes after some lawmakers found themselves surprised by the grand suspensions. Senate Bill 274 would restore $26 million in grant suspensions for Fiscal Year 2015. Democratic Senator Dan Kotowski says the new money being swept comes from around 100 special funds that have a surplus. One in particular has a rather large surplus.

“Funds we’re including now has a balance of $75 million that is a supplemental energy assistance fund. It’s money that is a surplus. That is not needed for fiscal year 15. It can be accessed.”

Senator Matt Murphy supported the measure and says everyone involved from lawmakers to the Governor’s staff have found a creative way to fund priorities. But, Murphy says the new fund sweep measure that replaces funds for autism and other services is just a sign of things to come.

“We are able to forestall that with this bill for this fiscal year for these programs. But we need to brace ourselves for the fact that difficult fiscal decisions are coming.”

Not everyone was on board with the measure. Senator Michael Noland said that the fund transfer is a sweep, a practice the democrat says should not be tolerated.

“I’m sorry that we’re having to engage in what is essentially robbing one piggy bank to give feed another. And I agree, we need to do some adjustments in the way that we are doing business with all of these various funds.”

Ultimately, Noland was the only “no” vote. Senator Heather Steans, who carried previous measure to fill the $1.6 billion budget hole in the current fiscal year, says the new measure allows lawmakers to now focus on the coming fiscal year.

“And will again allow us to now focus back onto Fiscal Year 2016 where we need to be providing our attention and efforts. I’m thrilled that we were able to do this again. It’s not perfect, having to sweep funds.”

Lawmakers held hearings in both chambers to dig into what led to the $26 million in grant suspensions for programs ranging from autism services to indigent burials. The measure that sweeps reserves from dozens of funds now heads to the House.

Senate bill tasks board to divest pension funds from Iran, Sudan

No more state pension investment dollars for companies with ties to Iran or Sudan. That’s the goal of a bill that passed the Illinois Senate Wednesday. Senate Bill 1761 creates the Illinois Investment Policy Board and tasks the board with compiling a list identifying all Iran and Sudan-restricted companies and companies that boycott Israel. Upon compiling the list, the board would review the companies on a quarterly basis. The measure also requires state-funded retirement systems to identify restricted companies and in certain circumstances to divest from those restricted companies. The measure now heads to the House.

Propane for vehicles could get tax

Drive a car that’s powered by liquefied natural gas or propane? You may see a tax up to 21.5 cents per gallon if a Senate Bill makes it through both chambers. Senate Bill 1907 passed Wednesday and would add the tax to propane for motor vehicles. There would also be a 19 cent per gallon tax for compressed natural gas. No fee would be imposed on rail carriers, ships, barges or vessels involved in interstate commerce. The measure now heads to the House.

Bill addressing public aid payments to dead people passes House

A measure to help end public aid payments to dead people passed the House Wednesday. Republican State Representative Dwight Kay’s House Bill 3311 allows the Department of Human Services to cross-reference their roster of public aid recipients with the Department of Public Health’s reporting system for death registrations. Kay says over nine years around $60 million in public aid has gone to people who have died.

“This practice is an attempt to stop that and get timely information to the appropriate parties so that the death match records are synced up and payments and discontinued.”

The measure was amended to allow a monthly cross-reference of death records to find recently deceased public aid recipients and cancel their public aid benefits, including the deactivation of their LINK card. The measure now heads to the Senate. Recent Auditor General and media reports have highlighted the problem of dead people receiving millions of dollars a year in erroneous payments.

Buy North American, excluding Mexico, passes House

Illinois state government would only be able to purchase vehicles that are assembled in the United States and Canada under a proposal that passed the House Wednesday. Democratic Representative Mike Smiddy’s House Bill 3438 dubbed Buy North American excludes vehicles assembled in Mexico. Representative Elizabeth Hernandez says the Mexican consulate took offense to the measure. Hernandez says she wants a conversation to include Mexico when the measure heads to the Senate. Republican Representative Keith Wheeler says it’s a 20th century bill for the 21st century and some Illinois manufacturers will be hurt. Smiddy says vehicles assembled outside Canada and the .US. can still be purchased by the public but state government would be limited to just purchases from those two countries. Representative Jeanne Ives said that she takes offense Australia isn’t considered and says there could be unexpected negative economic impacts.

“And we want them, instead of buying Caterpillar products, to go nearby to Japan to buy Komatsu products instead? Because I don’t know why they would want to support trade trade with the state of Illinois when we decide we’re not going to support trade with them.”

The measure passed 70-42 and now advances to the state Senate.

NRI fix legislation introduced

The call is out to bring about reforms in an effort several state senators say will help combat grant fraud in the wake of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative scandal under former Governor Pat Quinn. Senators Jason Barickman and Darin Lahood, who both served on the panel investigating NRI, have introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 1058 they say is aimed at fixing many of the most controversial aspects of the NRI program. Barickman says when the initial NRI grant announcement was made in 2010 it wasn’t just republicans that were skeptical.

“There were leading Chicago democrats who questioned the timing of the announcement and the legitimacy of the program but there was nothing anyone could do about it because the law did not a law prohibiting Governor Quinn at the time from making those announcements, so this simply addresses that.”

The measures would prevent constitutional officers from handing out grant dollars right before an election, close a loophole the Senators say the former Governor used to the bypass the budgeting process and updates the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act. Senator Darin Lahood says the proposed measures clarifies the law because there was confusion when the grants were originally issued.

“It seems to me when we were going through this process there was lots of mixed opinion for what the Governor could or could not do. Who was in charge? Who was doing what? What direction where they taking? I think this cleans that up.”

Governor Quinn’s NRI program doled out $50 million in grants in an effort to stem violence in Chicago. The grant awards were done before an election and were also criticized as being ineffective and poorly accounted and sparked not just an inquiry by the General Assembly but also prosecutors in Chicago and Springfield.

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