Week in Review for December 15, 2018

General Assembly takes step to reduce administrative expenses, consolidate operations. Under the setup in place in Springfield’s Capitol Complex heading into Fiscal Year 2019, the Illinois General Assembly had two separate nonpartisan research offices. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the General Assembly’s budget-monitoring and research arm, was in place to examine and oversee trends involving Illinois’ tax revenues, budgets, and spending. As a nonpartisan oversight panel with jurisdiction over cash flow issues, CGFA was in close contact with the General Assembly’s appropriations and revenue committees.

At the same time, another nonpartisan office – the General Assembly’s Legislative Research Unit (LRU) – was available to conduct research projects into issues of state policy other than appropriations and budget matters. For example, if a legislator or a legislative committee wanted to study the current status of legislation among the 50 states in issues such as criminal law or financial regulation, they could go to LRU and get a research report.

As time passed, it became clear that there was a good deal of overlap between the duties of these two offices. Running them separately had created a need for redundant taxpayer-paid staff. HB 3538 merged the two offices, eliminating full-time staff positions and reducing taxpayer costs. CGFA, co-chaired by House Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, will be the surviving office within the overall merger. This fall 2018 bill also streamlines some reporting requirements and allows for reports to be filed electronically. The new measure was signed into law as Public Act 100-1148 on Monday, December 10.

Taylorville tornado classified as EF-3 twister; cleanup continues. An estimated 500 homes in the central Illinois community of Taylorville were destroyed or damaged by the December 1 tornado outbreak. At least 22 injuries were reported. In response to the storm event, Gov. Bruce Rauner has declared Christian County, the county that centers on Taylorville, as a disaster area. The declaration prioritizes the shift of State resources to the Taylorville area to aid in the recovery. The twister, classified this week as an EF-3 tornado, was part of the most severe tornado outbreak to hit Illinois in December history.

Governor’s health care fraud prevention initiatives save the State more than $218 million. In its latest report, the Governor’s Health Care Fraud Elimination Task Force showed that it successfully avoided or recouped $218 million in wasteful or fraudulent Medicaid spending. The effort resulted in 39 fraud convictions including $27.8 million in recoveries through criminal prosecutions, civil actions, and/or administrative referrals. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) saved or recouped an estimated $190 million in FY18. The task force has saved the state more than $665 million since its inception in 2016.

“The state of Illinois dedicates a tremendous amount of resources to health care programs, and it is our responsibility to make sure those taxpayer dollars are spent on care instead of lining criminals’ pockets,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said. “The Health Care Fraud Elimination Task Force plays a crucial role in ensuring that state dollars are distributed both efficiently and fairly.”

The Governor’s Health Care Fraud Elimination Task Force was created in April of 2016. Chaired by Executive Inspector General Susan Haling, its purpose is to develop and coordinate a comprehensive plan to prevent and eliminate health care fraud, waste and abuse by deploying a cross-agency, data-driven approach. The Task Force specifically focuses on reducing wasteful spending and fraud in Medicaid, Worker’s Compensation, and State Employee Group Insurance.

“Health care fraud is an enormous problem in Illinois, and I am very proud of the Task Force’s efforts to eliminate fraud in the state,” Haling said. “While there is much work to be done still, the Task Force has demonstrated that cooperation between government agencies produces results.”

The Task Force has worked with a variety of stakeholders to achieve the results described in its October 2018 Interim Report.

In FY 2017, members of the Task Force participated in the 2018 National Health Care Fraud Takedown, which was the largest health care fraud enforcement action in U.S. Department of Justice History. The Illinois State Police Medicaid Fraud Control Unit’s participation led to the indictment of 14 people responsible for approximately $430,000 in fraudulent claims in the Medicaid Home Services Program. Task Force members also participated in the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care Fraud Task Force meetings to share information about data-driven approaches to fighting fraud.

Task Force member Healthcare and Family Services – Office of the Inspector General also rolled out a program that provides hospitals with the opportunity to self-audit overpayments and billing errors. Piloted in April 2016, the program resulted in the identification of $4.4 million in overpayments.

“By working together with healthcare providers and the United States Department of Justice, the Health Care Fraud Elimination Task Force ensures that state funds are used responsibly,” Rauner said.

Zoning approved for new Burnham Bend neighborhood in Chicago. The 62-acre parcel, which will be Chicago’s 78thneighborhood, lies on the east side of the Chicago River south of Roosevelt Road. The Rauner administration has worked with the University of Illinois, the city of Chicago, and the private sector to redevelop the site as the headquarters of the new Discovery Partners Institute, a higher education-private sector partnership intended to be a world-class Innovation Center.

The Center will be the central hub of the Illinois Innovation Network, a networked series of hubs throughout Illinois that will provide broadband video and data links for collaborators in job-creation projects. All of the hubs are slated to be higher education-private sector partnerships. Other Network hubs include a site in Springfield, in an affiliation with the University of Illinois at Springfield, and DeKalb, in affiliation with Northern Illinois University.

The Burnham Bend/78th neighborhood site was once the location of a meander of the Chicago River. In the early 1900s, the pioneering city planner Daniel “Make No Little Plans” Burnham urged the city to straighten the river and reclaim the real estate for future use in the twenty-first century. The work was accomplished as part of long-term implementation of the Plan of Chicago. The Chicago City Council zoning move was announced on Wednesday, December 12.

In 2018 deer season, Illinois hunter lays claim to what could be the largest buck ever shot in United States. The deer, taken at an unnamed location by a hunter from Johnston City, bore a rack that shows up in photographs at 51 points. The trophy buck’s record is not yet official and has not yet been certified. The current U.S. record is a 47-point buck shot by a hunter from Gallatin, Tennessee.

The potential record-breaking buck was harvested during the first Illinois shotgun season. Hunter Keith Szableswki talked to personnel from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), who strongly urged him to get the trophy ranked and scored. Szableswki told a reporter his intent was to submit the trophy rack to judges at the Illinois Deer and Turkey Expo to be held in July 2019 in Peoria. He added that the animal, which weighed in at about 265 lb., has been processed and most of the meat donated to charity.

Illinois Investment Policy Board finds Airbnb out of compliance with Illinois anti-BDS law. The Illinois Investment Policy Board (IIPB) on Wednesday unanimously found that Airbnb's decision to delist Jewish-owned properties on the West Bank was not in compliance with Illinois anti-BDS law. Airbnb has until the next IIPB meeting on March 13 to respond before the IIPB takes final action.

Gov. Bruce Rauner issued the following statement applauding the IIPB action:

"In response to our request for an investigation, the Illinois Investment Policy Board has determined that Airbnb is not in compliance with Illinois law prohibiting bans, divestitures and sanctions against the state of Israel. We applaud the Board's finding and urge Airbnb to reverse its decision. It is imperative that we hold companies accountable when they are engaged in targeted discriminatory activities. Such actions not only violate the law of Illinois, they offend the core values of equality and fairness upon which our nation is built."

Proposals made to increase State gas tax to fund infrastructure needs. Illinois’ motor fuel tax on gasoline is 19 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1990. All revenue from the tax goes to the Motor Fuel Tax Fund. In Fiscal Year 2017, $1.35 billion in State revenue was collected (approximately the same amount as was raised in FY16).

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently proposed raising the gas tax by 20 to 30 cents per gallon to fund a new Capital program and infrastructure improvements. That would more than double the current 19 cent per gallon State gas tax. IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn has also called for an increase in the State gas tax by at least 15 cents per gallon.

Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday, Dec. 12, didn’t dismiss the possibility of a gas tax hike to help pay for rebuilding the state’s infrastructure, but he also cautioned that a major capital construction program won’t come quickly when his administration begins Jan. 14.

Pritzker also said a new capital program and the revenue to pay for it isn’t something the lame-duck 100thGeneral Assembly should pursue when it returns to Springfield on Jan. 7.

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