Illinois Happenings

FY16 Budget
Comptroller Munger: Early Intervention payments will be made.

IDHS.gifComptroller, DHS agree EI services fall under active consent decree. Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced Wednesday that her office is setting up accounts and will immediately begin making payments to Early Intervention providers as soon as it receives vouchers from the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Munger learned from her Nonprofit Advisory Council last week that Early Intervention services were "slipping through the cracks" of consent decrees requiring payments during the budget impasse, and she contacted DHS officials to discuss what payment options were available. After looking more closely at several active consent decrees, DHS and the Comptroller agreed that Early Intervention services were covered and they immediately began setting up the processes for making payments to providers.

"I know the tremendous benefits that Early Intervention services can provide to our delayed and disabled infants and toddlers, and I was extremely concerned when I learned many providers would likely be suspending their vital therapeutic services at the end of this month," Munger said. "My office is working today to set up the accounts and we will immediately begin making payments to Early Intervention providers as soon as we receive vouchers from DHS so we can avoid further hardships."

Early Intervention providers, who work on development strategies with disabled infants and toddlers, are the latest group in a growing list of organizations to be penalized by the ramifications of the budget impasse, now in its third month. Munger announced last week that the current $6.2 billion bill backlog is expected to grow to $8.5 billion by the end of December if the impasse continues.

"It is time for members of the General Assembly to sit down with the Governor to find common ground and pass a balanced budget so we can fund our critical priorities," Munger said.

Other states besides Illinois have also not passed a working budget for current fiscal year. 
budget_plan_2.jpgStates operating as of Monday, September 14, without a twelve-month budget include Alabama, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Large, urbanized states such as Illinois and Pennsylvania are proving to be especially vulnerable to budget pressures, especially when the Governor’s office and the state legislature are in separate hands.

In both Illinois and Pennsylvania, Republicans have proposed significant reductions in State spending trajectories and the so-called “structural deficit,” and their proposals have been rejected by Democrats.  Long-term spending pressures, especially in urbanized states, tend to be driven by Medicaid health care costs, pay and benefits for public-sector workers, and the costs of taking care of a chronologically older and slower-growing population demographic.  

Energy – Nuclear Power Owner of Illinois’ 11 operating nuclear reactors ponders their future.  The generating stations are located in Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle County, and the Quad Cities.  While more than 40% of Illinois’ electrical power is generated from uranium-powered nuclear reactors, this energy source has been threatened by drops in the price of natural gas; ever-increasing mandates on operating nuclear power plants; and continuing uncertainty about the storage of used, irradiated fuel units following the end of their operating cycles.

These considerations bear heaviest on Exelon’s sole Illinois single-reactor plant, the Clinton Power Station in DeWitt County.  Located north of Decatur, the 1,078-megawatt Downstate reactor is licensed to operate until September 2028; but the plant was labeled “economically challenged” by Exelon in a policy announcement released on Thursday, September 10.  In the same announcement, Exelon stated that it plans to continue to operate two other Illinois reactor complexes, Byron and Quad Cities, through at least May 2018.

Exelon has asked the Illinois General Assembly to consider changing electric rates to benefit continued operation of nuclear power plants.  The rate changes, which the company asserts follow policy moves already granted by Illinois and other states to firms that erect wind turbines and generate wind power, are described by Exelon as a way to level the playing field for all forms of clean energy.

The Clinton plant, which is especially threatened at this time, sells electricity into the Midcontinent Independent System Operator network of high-tension power lines.  This network is also getting power offers from newly-built wind farms and from generators powered with natural gas.  Exelon has stated that the Clinton reactor plant is responsible for 600 direct and indirect Central Illinois jobs, with paychecks totaling $50 million annually.

Illinois State Lottery General Assembly investigates Illinois State Lottery, finds diminishment in returns.
IL_lottery.pngThe nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) found that in FY15 (ended June 30, 2015), transfers to State funds from the Lottery dropped by $125 million from transfers in FY14.  This was the first such decline since 2009.  Most of this diminishment was borne by the Capital Projects Fund, as surplus Lottery profits are allocated to State and local infrastructure.  The Capital Projects Fund received $145 million in FY14 and just $8 million in FY15, resulting in slowdowns in the release of funds for a wide variety of State-funded capital projects including school construction projects.

Press accounts of the CGFA report were, in some cases, slightly misleading.  Some of the news stories presented the drop in Illinois State Lottery profits as a red-ink number rather than a diminished black-ink number.  The State Lottery is currently highly vulnerable to bad publicity, as in the absence of an FY16 budget it is legally barred from paying out prizes greater than $25,000.  Winners of large prizes are being presented with Lottery IOUs rather than cash, and litigation is pending.

The CGFA report, “Wagering in Illinois: 2015” was released on Thursday, September 17.

Smoke-Free Law – Beer Gardens New administrative rule tries to crack down on enclosed smoking, adds to confusion. 
Beer_garden.jpgThe Smoke-Free Illinois Act, enacted in 2007, is aimed at reducing involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.  Language in the law forbids smoking tobacco indoors in public places, including casino floors, bars and taverns.  Some bars and taverns have opened “beer gardens” in which patrons are allowed to smoke.

New administrative rules from the Illinois Department of Public Health are meant to clarify the situations in which outdoor smoking will be allowed.  Many tavern owners and operators report being confused and challenged by the new rules and say that they are getting legal advice that indicates that full compliance with the new rules could completely end smoking in beer gardens.  A push has begun to scrutinize and possibly modify the new rules.