After multiple criminal investigations and a several month-long audit review of former Governor Quinn’s controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) has introduced legislation to prevent future NRI-like disasters.
“Former Governor Quinn’s wasteful, ineffective Neighborhood Recovery Initiative spent tens of millions of dollars on programs that failed to reduce crime in Chicago. Further, the timing of the program and the grants left many to question whether it was simply a political slush fund for Quinn’s reelection campaign,” said Sen. Barickman. “Through careful work with my colleagues on the Legislative Audit Commission, and thanks to the recommendations of Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland and his expert staff, we’ve developed simple but effective solutions to stop this abuse from happening again and to protect the integrity of the many qualified not-for-profits that exist in Illinois.”
Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 1058 is aimed at fixing many of the most controversial aspects of the NRI program.
“Our proposal would limit the ability of constitutional officers to hand out goodies right before an election,” said Senator Barickman.
The timing of the NRI launch, just before the 2010 gubernatorial election, led many to question if the $50+ million program was simply created to drum up votes. Senator Barickman’s legislation prohibits constitutional officers and legislators from publicly promoting new programs and grants awarded by a State agency in the two months leading up to an election.
“We are also closing the loophole that former Governor Quinn used to abuse and bypass the budgeting process and dump $50 plus million dollars into NRI,” said Senator Barickman.
The measure also rewrites sections of the Illinois Finance Act to eliminate the accounting maneuver which allowed the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA) to get around fiscal year limitations. In addition, the legislation creates significant updates the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA).
After releasing a scathing audit of the NRI program in February of 2014, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland publicly criticized the IVPA’s use of fund transfers to bypass legislative oversight. Holland’s audit also pointed out that Chicago Aldermen were allowed to influence the decision on who received grants and how they were distributed, that the process lacked proper oversight, and that several recipients weren’t compliant with reporting requirements. Multiple media reports also showed that some grant recipients owed the state hundreds of thousands of dollars from previous programs, yet were still able to receive NRI funding.
Senator Barickman worked with current Governor Bruce Rauner’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) to include an update to GATA as part of his legislation. The updates include:
-Require documentation of award decisions, including evaluation and scoring of applicants, to determine how recipients were selected.
-A determination of non-compliance could stop payment to awardee at the discretion of the agency. Additionally, if any grantee is non-compliant, all new grants to them stop until they come into compliance.
-All annual fiscal reports and vouchers requesting payment must be certified, which would aid prosecution of fraudulent or improper grantees.
-Any monies spent before a grant agreement is executed would require an expenditure report. The over-seeing agency would be required to review the report and only reimburse reasonable and allowable expenditures.
-Travel costs charged to grants must follow state travel regulations, including caps established by the Governor’s Travel Control Board.
Senator Barickman’s legislation also asks GOMB to study and suggest additional legislation modeled after the federal Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012. The report would be due by January 1st, 2016.
“We are all concerned about violence throughout our state, but the failed NRI program only served to create public distrust of other, well-intentioned programs and state government as a whole,” said Senator Barickman. “I hope this legislation will preserve the integrity of state grant recipients who are making a difference in their community and begin to restore taxpayer's trust in the spending decisions made by their government.”