Political Rewind: Gov. Pat Quinn Continues to Slash State Spending
It's always good to be caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened this week.
- Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.
SPRINGFIELD — In an ongoing effort to slash state spending, Gov. Pat Quinn this week signed a bill eliminating free health care for state retirees and revealed he intends to move forward with prison closures throughout Illinois.
Quinn signs bill eliminating free health care for state retirees
Quinn on Thursday signed legislation to end premium-free health insurance for state retirees.
The state spends about $800 million yearly on the insurance program, but the exact savings from the new law will not be known, until a premium rate is negotiated between the state and public labor unions.
“Those who have faithfully served the state deserve access to quality health care, and insurance costs should be more balanced and based on actual retirement income,” Quinn said. “We also have a duty to taxpayers to ensure these plans are cost efficient and put Illinois on the path to fiscal stability.”
Under the previous system, about 90 percent of state employees did not pay health insurance premiums. The benefit created a $54 billion unfunded retiree health-care liability for the state.
Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokeswoman, said it was still unclear what affect the legislation will have on the unfunded liability.
Unlike the pensions, which have dedicated funds that are invested and used to pay costs, retiree health care is a pay-as-you-go system, draining more and more from the state’s general revenue fund.
“This is a step Illinois must take to right the financial ship. Without critical reforms, the current structure is unsustainable, and taxpayers are on the hook for programs they cannot afford,” said state Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
Southern Illinois to lose three correctional facilities in statewide closures
Lawmakers and labor leaders gathered Wednesday in Carbondale to deride Quinn as a coward and an enemy to southern Illinois for abruptly revealing he still intends to shutter numerous correctional facilities statewide, including three in southern Illinois.
They said they were shocked Tuesday afternoon by news that Quinn wants to proceed with the closures, even though the Legislature included money for the facilities in the budget it approved at the end of May.
Lawmakers also were concerned that the closures could cause voters in the traditionally Democratic part of the state to flock to Republicans in upcoming elections.
“When you’re doing something like this to southern Illinois, you’re not helping any Democrat, to be honest with you,” said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who was notified by fax of Quinn’s plans to proceed with the closures. “I don’t know what his plans are in the next election, but he has a chance to make this right.”
Among the facilities slated for closure are the Tamms “super-max” prison in Alexander County, the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and the Southern Illinois Adult Transition Center in Carbondale.
“Alexander County is the poorest county in the state. You’re going to take away their biggest employer?” Phelps said.
House lawmakers eager for stronger framework for investigating their own
Two House lawmakers who served on a special committee to investigate criminal allegations against indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith said they believe the House should strengthen its guidelines for such investigations.
State Rep. Frank D. Comerford, D-Chicago, was expelled from the Illinois House of Representatives in 1905.
House lawmakers are allowed to investigate a colleague if at least three representatives request a probe. In the end, lawmakers can choose to expel, censure, reprimand or do nothing at all to the lawmaker. The last representative kicked out of the House was Chicago Democrat Frank Comerford in 1905.
Smith, also of Chicago, is accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for trying to steer a $50,000 state contract to a fictitious daycare. Federal investigators caught the transaction on tape. Smith is charged in federal court with one count of bribery.
State Reps. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, and Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, sat on a House Special Investigating Committee that investigated the allegations against Smith and determined there was enough evidence to proceed with professional discipline against him.
Reboletti said the group looked to various sources for guidance on how to proceed, including the 1905 case and the conviction and impeachment hearings of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“We looked at as much precedent as possible and, fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often,” said Reboletti, a former prosecutor. “I don’t think it was as simple as looking at one thing in particular, but also trying to modernize things as thought was appropriate for the Smith situation.”
Reboletti said he anticipates the House rules will be changed to identify the level of misconduct that can trigger an investigation. Theoretically, the way the rules are written, a speeding ticket, a cross word or political ax-grinding could trigger an investigation if at least three representatives request an investigation.
“Just because a representative says something on the House floor or in his or her district, like Comerford did, you don’t want to just base an investigation off of that,” he said. “There has to be a more substantive reason for bringing that course of action.”
Nekritz said she, too, would like to see the House revisit its rules for such investigations.
“I think that we will be looking at this portion of the rules as the new General Assembly is seated next January and try to clean this up,” she said.
Study: Public retiree debt at $203B
Illinoisans are on the hook for $203 billion in public-sector retiree debt, about a third of the state’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to a new report.
“Politicians keep talking about the state pension problem,” said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy for the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian think tank, said. “Really our problems are much, much larger than that.”
Illinois’ public pension system owes current and future retirees $83 billion more than it has in assets, but that is less than half the problem, according to the institute’s report released Wednesday. State retiree health care and pension systems also are facing:
- $15.5 billion in state pension obligation bonds;
- $54 billion in unfunded state retiree health-care liability;
- $38.2 billion in unfunded local government pension liability;
- $10.7 billion in unfunded local government retiree health-care liability;
- $1.9 billion in local government pension and benefit bonds.
A plan to curb the rising cost of the state’s public pension system by decreasing cost-of-living adjustments faltered this spring, but Quinn and lawmakers are continuing to try and hammer out some solution.
Group pushes for health-care exchange, regardless of ruling
A band of health-care advocates and small businesses are calling for Quinn to create a statewide health insurance exchange in Illinois, regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the national law.
“We wished he would have done it two weeks ago,” said Jim Duffett, executive director for the Campaign for Better Health Care, a group that lobbies for cheaper, more accessible health care.
“And we’d like him to do it tomorrow, do it the next day. If the Supreme Court rules on Thursday, then for him to do it Thursday or Friday. He needs to do it.”
The high court is looking at whether parts or all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional, and is set to announce its decision sometime next week.
The major source of controversy is a portion of the law calling for all Americans to have health insurance. Opponents say forcing people to buy a product transcends the power of the federal government.
The law requires states to create health-care exchanges for people to compare and buy insurance by Nov. 12, or accept a federal model. Legislation in the General Assembly to create such an exchange stalled this spring as the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case.
Illinois has received $32.7 million from the federal government to establish the exchange, and it is unclear what would happen to that money if the national law is overturned.
Quinn earlier this year made it known he was thinking about using his executive powers to create an insurance exchange, but nothing came of it.
— Jayette Bolinski