Daily Herald - June 21, 2017 | original article

By Dan McCaleb, Greg Bishop and Cole Lauterbach

Almost two full years into a budget impasse that has Illinois' debt soaring and its bond rating plummeting, Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling on state lawmakers to approve his preferred budget plan during a 10-day special session that begins at noon today.

In a public address less than 24 hours before the extra session was to begin, Rauner said he would sign into law the plan introduced by House and Senate Republicans just last week that would require more than $5 billion in tax increases to pay for spending capped at $36 billion...

...A family with annual income of $60,000 would pay the state an additional $720 a year under the GOP income tax hike proposal, with their state tax bills spiking to $2,970 from $2,250.

Suburban Democrats in statements criticized Rauner's call for unity, saying lawmakers almost had a deal three months ago and Rauner had Republicans back out of it.

"Now, with just 11 days left in the fiscal year, the governor is calling for unity while running attack ads on Democratic legislators? It's absurd," said Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake.

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Category: In The News

Senator Melinda BushDaily Herald - June 12, 2017 | original article

By Melinda Bush, guest columnist

In the few cases where I’ve disagreed with the Daily Herald’s editorial opinions, I’ve done so understanding the arguments made and the clear reasoning behind them.

In the case of the recent editorial on school funding reform (this year’s Senate Bill 1), I have to admit I am mystified as to how the Herald reached the conclusion that this version of school funding reform is nothing more than a bailout of the Chicago Public School System.

The Herald attacked supporters of funding reform for going along with a plan that would supposedly benefit Chicago at the expense of our districts. This could not be further from the truth.

(1) The formula is evidence-based and distributes funds in a fair and equitable manner.

(2) The legislation is written so that no school district will receive less money than it has received under the current funding formula.

(3) The reform will support our neediest districts. The largest share of new funds will be delivered to districts furthest from the adequacy target, according to the model published by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

(4) The $70.8 million going to Chicago, according to the ISBE model, is going to a school district with almost 500 schools and more than 390,000 students, based on numbers from the Illinois Report Card.

Zion Elementary School District 6, which has a comparable number of low-income students (based on DHS calculations) and similar progress towards the adequacy target will receive $1.6 million for its 2,773 students, according to numbers from ISBE.

Similarly, Round Lake Unit District 116 will receive an additional $5.5 million in funding for its roughly 7,297 students.

(5) Funding Illinois’ Future reports that the school funding reform passed reflects the core principles of the Governor’s School Funding Reform Commission. If Gov. Rauner vetoes this legislation, he will be acting against the recommendations of the bipartisan commission he formed.

(6) Chicago does not gain the most per pupil from this funding reform. In fact, 268 school districts gain more per pupil than Chicago Public Schools, according to the ISBE model.

At its most basic, the legislative intent of this bill is to remove the politics from education funding. The prior formula was simply not equitable, nor based on evidence. This bill bases education funding on a formula that evidence shows is equitable.

This formula, and indeed this legislation, is supported by hundreds of superintendents, school districts, community organizations and churches from all corners of the State of Illinois.

As a lifelong resident of Lake County and a parent of a child who went through the Lake County school system, I can finally see progress with the way the State of Illinois is funding education in my district. This is real reform that moves the needle towards ensuring every student in Illinois gets a quality education regardless of their zip code.

Category: In The News

Belleville News-Democrat - June 8, 2017 | original article

By Casey Bischel

Like many states, Illinois passed legislation trying to control the opioid and heroin epidemic.

The Heroin Crisis Act, which took effect Sept. 9, 2015, included a series of changes to the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program, a statewide database maintained by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The PMP records prescriptions for opioids and other potentially addictive drugs when they are filled at pharmacies. Through the program, medical providers can see what their patients are taking and help catch people seeking fraudulent prescriptions, a practice known as “doctor-shopping.”...

...In 2017, State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, sponsored legislation that would make PMP checks mandatory for prescribers or people they designate to.

“It’s indefensible and reprehensible (not to check),” Bush said on the Senate floor before her bill passed without a single “no” vote.

The bill then sailed through the House Human Services Committee unanimously, but it was held for an amendment by state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, after the ISMS voiced concerns. Zalewski said he asked the organization twice before the legislative deadline for the amendment it wanted to submit, but ISMS didn’t send it.

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Category: In The News

1015a005Daily Herald - June 7, 2017 | original article

By Jake Griffin

One result of the Illinois legislature's repeated failure to pass a budget is a big backlog of unpaid bills to companies and nonprofits that do business with the state or have contracts to care for the sick and needy.

In the suburbs, that adds up to $2.2 billion owed to more than 5,100 health care providers, local government agencies, small businesses and other state vendors.

That's according to the most recent figures released by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza's office late last week that showed amounts owed to vendors in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties from the state's general fund.

The amount is roughly 15 percent of the $14.7 billion the state owes all vendors. Chicago-based vendors are owed close to $5.6 billion, according to the comptroller's figures.

"It makes it tough, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone," said Mark Stutrud, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, based in Des Plaines.

Lutheran Social Services shuttered several social service programs during the state budget crisis that began three years ago. At one point, Stutrud said, the charity was owed millions from the state, but that amount has shrunk in recent months. Lutheran Social Services is now owed close to $1 million, according to the comptroller's figures. Stutrud said that's mainly for providing mental health care.

"It's disgraceful, the whole situation," said Arlington Heights Republican state Rep. David Harris. "It significantly hurts these vendors and forces them in essence to be Illinois' banker by providing the dollars we use to run our state in any number of different ways. It's an embarrassment."

The state last passed a full-year budget in 2014.

The comptroller's data was for bills submitted up to June 2, but it didn't detail how long some of the bills had gone unpaid.

However, officials in Mendoza's office said bills from some suburban school districts go back to at least the start of the 2016-17 school year. Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 is owed nearly $4.8 million -- mainly for special education reimbursements -- and has been seeking payment since September 2016.

School districts "are in a quandary" about how to budget for the coming school year, District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates said. "Schools need to brace for another year of uncertainty."

Health insurance management firms like Oak Brook-based Molina Healthcare and Westmont-based Illinicare, both health providers for Medicaid recipients, are owed the most in the suburbs, together accounting for more than $1 billion.

School districts have hefty bills as well. Elgin Area School District U-46 and Bloom Township High School District 206 in Chicago Heights are owed a combined $41 million.

Some vendors were owed just pennies. Paddock Publications, the parent company of the Daily Herald, is owed $321.13, according to the comptroller's report.

To compound the state's financial woes, state law requires interest payments on most past due bills after 60 days.

"Currently, we owe something like $700 million to $800 million in interest alone," said Democratic state Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines. Democrats blame Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for insisting on pro-business changes before agreeing to a budget, while the GOP blames Democratic leaders who control the legislature.

Some lawmakers are worried vendors will stop doing business with the state.

"Who are you getting to do the work that's willing to wait months, if ever, to get paid?" said Grayslake Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush. "We've got to pass a budget to be sure we're getting the best workers."

Category: In The News

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