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Senate Week in Review: College Illinois Audit Reveals 'Questionable Investment'

Also, redistricting process continues.

A state audit was released last week revealing the College Illinois! program lost more than $12 million as a result of questionable investments in 2010, according to state Sen. Ron Sandack (R-21st). The auditor general’s report noted that the prepaid tuition program overseen by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission awarded a contract for investment due diligence services “without following established procurement law, administrative rules or sound business practices.”

The audit found that a company hired by ISAC advised the commission to proceed with a $12.78 million investment in ShoreBank Corp., even though the potential enterprise was flagged as risky.  The bank was later closed by federal regulators and the investment lost. The audit questioned ISAC’s business decisions relating to the investment, including the commission’s failure to properly bid the related contract and questionable fees included in the contract which the audit suggests may have created a financial incentive for the vendor to pursue the riskier investment.

Auditor General William Holland reportedly questioned ISAC’s investment decisions, noting that a running deficit within the College Illinois! program should provide additional incentive to exercise vigilance and prudence in the commission’s investments. College Illinois! had a $338 million deficit on June 30, which is a little less than the $342 million deficit the program had in 2009.

Redistricting Process Continues

Also last week, community organizations and citizens traveled to the Illinois Statehouse to testify before the Senate Redistricting Committee, including several downstate residents who said having too many representatives in one area causes confusion among voters.

Resident Dennis Fisher noted Shelby County has four state representatives, three senators and two congressional representatives, which he said causes unnecessary confusion. Randy Becker from Effingham, which has three state senators and three representatives, echoed Fisher’s sentiments, noting that because they have so many lawmakers in such a concentrated area many residents feel they get “lost in the shuffle.”

A number of organizations also journeyed from Chicago to attend the hearing. Witnesses once again testified strongly in favor of keeping together communities with strong racial or ethnic ties. The witnesses stressed their belief that dividing these communities dilutes their collective voting voice. Representatives from the Asian American Institute said that in addition to drawing district boundaries that preserve racial and ethnic communities, lawmakers should also make an effort to draw districts that keep vital educational and social services within the communities they serve.

Several other witnesses advocated for prisoners to be counted in their community of origin, as opposed to the current system where inmates are counted in the community in which they are incarcerated. Proponents say that the revenues associated with the prison population should be redirected to inmates’ home communities, noting that the current system deprives the community where the inmate will likely return of needed revenue for job training and related rehabilitation and reintegration services. Opponents argued that there is no way to know if a prisoner will return to his or her home town following their incarceration, and in the interim the prison community should be compensated for the resources it provides to the correctional facility housing the inmate.

Whitney Woodward from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform also testified before the committee, stressing the need for a public vetting and editing of a draft redistricting map. She noted that while the Redistricting Committee has made significant strides towards opening the redistricting process to the public, transparency efforts made by the committee will be viewed as "hollow gestures” if draft maps are not made public.  The ICPR representative noted that though it will be impossible to please all interested parties, it would be possible to pass a map the public can study and influence.

Before adjourning, Redistricting Chairman Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) noted that map-drawing public work stations will soon be made available in both Springfield and Chicago. Last week, the House and Senate Republican Caucuses announced they will make the map drawing room in the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday or by appointment by calling 312-814-2053.

Staff, computers and software will be available for community activists, organizations and people interested in drawing legislative district boundaries. The census data that is used to draw the maps will also be available, and members of the public will be able to save their maps and take them home with them.

The next public hearings will be held on Saturday, April 16, in Kankakee and Peoria.

Transparency in State Payments

Finally, the Senate approved a number of bills including Senate Bill 1836, which requires a state agency to submit a voucher to the comptroller for payment of a vendor’s bill within 10 business days of receiving the bill, or return the bill to the vendor if it is determined to be incorrect. The legislation also mandates the comptroller post a copy of the voucher on his or her official Web site within five days of receipt. The goal is to bring transparency and accountability to the process by which the comptroller pays state vendors, many of which wait months for payment.

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