State: No budget solution coming

Political observers don’t foresee lawmakers accomplishing anything substantive on a plan to manage tax dollars this spring.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are scheduled back in Springfield next week.

Though the primaries are over, the upcoming general election in November will foster continued political posturing rather than resolution of structural deficiencies, University of Illinois-Springfield Professor Emeritus Kent Redfield said.

“To have to get religion in a very short period of time, all the time having the fall elections hanging over your head, that would be obviously much more interesting and hopefully ultimately more productive than sitting around posturing,” Redfield said.

Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at U of I, also said it’s likely there won’t be a budget until after the November election while battles over changing Republican seats to Democrat seats, and visa versa, play out.

Both Mooney and Redfield said lawmakers have potential routes for coming to terms with the governor on a budget this spring, but the options aren’t likely.

One thing that could force a budget, Mooney said, is court action based on the recent Illinois Supreme Court case about back pay not being allowed unless there’s an appropriation.

Mooney said the high court could use that ruling in a potential case resulting in non-critical state employees not getting paid until there’s a spending plan.

“That might be a huge crisis — the kind of huge crisis that it’s going to take to bring all the parties to the table here and make the hard decisions and get this done,” Mooney said.

The Supreme Court decided back in July not to take up cases on direct appeal dealing with state employee pay absent a budget, but Mooney said that could change.

Another option, according to both Mooney and Redfield, is for the governor and House speaker to come to terms on revenue and reforms, though the November election could hinder any compromise.

By the time the General Assembly gavels in for session next week, Illinois will be a full nine months into the fiscal year without a budget, and is the last state in the union without a budget for the current year.

As backlog of employee health bills grows, state finds savings in plans

Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills to cover state employee medical claims is nearing $3 billion, according to the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Commission Executive Director Jim Long said because there’s no appropriation, the state can’t pay medical claims. Many payments are more than a year overdue, Long said, which puts pressure on medical providers.

“A lot of providers are starting to ask for some payment up front,” Long said.

Long said more than 360,000 members in the state’s various health plans are being affected.

Those affected are a broad group, including “the executive branch of government, the legislative, judicial and all of the universities,” he said.

Once an appropriation is made, the state can start paying on the claims and employees, their dependents and state retirees would then get reimbursed, Long said.

Illinois State Medical Society President Dr. Scott Cooper cited the lack of state payments to medical providers as one of the issues that makes it difficult to recruit new medical professionals.

Despite the tremendous backlog of unpaid medical bills, however, the state was able to find some savings in health plans.

Long said a recent audit program weeded out thousands of people who weren’t supposed to be included in the state’s group insurance plan, resulting in significant savings.

“In total there’s close to 7,500 dependents that were taken off the rolls simply because they were no longer eligible,” Long said. “The estimated savings on that is about $32 million.”

Additionally, the state was able to find an estimated $250 million in savings over several years by switching all state retirees to the Medicare Advantage Program, Long said.

-Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network

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