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IL: Week in review — Presidential debates, proposed Cook County tax dominate news

By   /   October 19, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

The Illinois seal.

By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD – A confusing lack of details during the second of three presidential debates left at least one Illinois voter frustrated this week, and opponents of a proposed video-gaming tax in Cook County say it’s a business killer.

Southern Illinois voter frustrated by debate rhetoric

Deb Sommer, 56, stepped away from Tuesday night’s debate between Democrat U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney wanting more.

More details, more insight, more straight talk.

“I was really hoping I would hear something new,” said Sommer, a 56-year-old librarian from Metropolis on the Ohio River in deep southern Illinois.

“The lack of job growth is terribly distressing. And maybe I misunderstood Romney at the end. He said it two times: government does not create jobs. Well then why does he also say he’ll do a better job creating jobs when he’s president? I just don’t understand.

“But there is stuff Obama said that wasn’t true either, or at least was misleading.”

Overall, she found the debate — the second of three presidential debates leading into the Nov. 6 election — lackluster and frustrating.

“It concerns me. I feel like I’m pretty well-informed, and if I hear something that doesn’t seem quite right I’m going to research it,” Sommer said. “But what concerns me are the people who can’t or won’t do that. My poor mother doesn’t know what she’s going to do.”

The third and final presidential debate between Obama and Romney is at 8 p.m. central time Monday.

Opponents say proposed Cook County tax will stifle business growth

Cook County tavern owners and others with video-gaming machines in their establishments may have to pony up even more under a tax plan being floated by county board president Toni Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle, a Democrat, wants to impose an $800 tax on every video gaming machine in Cook County to help plug a shortfall in the county’s budget.

Forty-five Cook County businesses have video gaming licenses, according to figures from the Illinois Gaming Board, which regulates gambling in Illinois. The video-gaming tax alone is a potential windfall of $1 million for Cook County’s coffers, which are $115 million in the red.

It is unclear how officials arrived at a tax of $800 per video-gaming machine. But Preckwinkle, who released her budget proposal Thursday, said the tax, as well as others she has proposed, is targeted, responsible and focused on supporting county services.

“These machines generate almost $800 (per) day — we’re asking for $800 per year. They keep their other 364 days of revenue,” she said Thursday. “We use that one day’s revenue to help mitigate the impact of the associated costs of crime, health, addiction.”

Video gaming went online in Illinois earlier this month, and businesses throughout the state have applied for licenses to offer the machines to customers. A 2009 state law allows up to five video poker machines in bars and restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations.

Some money generated by the machines goes to capital projects in the state. Cities that allow video gaming can receive 5 percent of the revenue. Chicago and other Illinois communities, on the other hand, have banned the machines.

Local governments applying a tax to video-gaming machines is not something state officials anticipated, said Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie who supports the expansion of legalized gambling in Illinois.

“It flies in the face of the statute we passed, where it may be possible for a county to tax, especially for a home-rule county like Cook, but it wasn’t anticipated they would,” he said. “And so when these businesses put their business models together they were not anticipating this tax.”

All Kids audit turns up problems —  including some repeats

Illinois’ children’s health insurance program spent thousands of dollars on people who were not eligible and didn’t investigate why children received multiple pairs of eyeglasses in a year, the latest audit of the program shows.

In addition, the All Kids program is not eligible for federal reimbursement, costing the state $85.7 million, an increase of $11.3 million from the previous year.

It all adds up to something the state can’t afford, one state lawmaker said Tuesday.

“Since instituted by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the General Assembly Democrats in 2005, the program has been riddled with not just bad policy, but with very poor management. There have been more than a few audits from the auditor general demonstrating that,” said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

“This program has a history of wasting taxpayer dollars, and so I wouldn’t be shocked if there are problems.”

The audit, released Wednesday, focused on the expanded All Kids program, which is the non-Medicaid part of All Kids. It allows parents who do not qualify for Medicaid to obtain lower-premium health insurance for their children.

The expanded All Kids program serves children who were not previously covered by KidCare, the state’s original Medicaid program that provided health insurance for children in low-income families. The expansion includes children whose family income is greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level or who were undocumented immigrants.

As of fiscal 2011, the year addressed in Wednesday’s audit, more than 97,000 children were enrolled in the expanded All Kids program. Total claims paid that year were $96.6 million, and the state received about $10.8 million in premiums. The whole All Kids program has 1.9 million enrollees, for whom the state paid $3.2 billion in claims.

The audit also found that hundreds of people received medical services after their 19th birthday when they were no longer eligible for coverage; hundreds of others were enrolled with more than one identification number; and thousands were categorized as “undocumented,” even though they had Social Security numbers on file.

The report indicated the agencies that oversee the All Kids program are working to implement audit recommendations.

Contact Jayette Bolinski at [email protected]. Find Illinois Watchdog on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @ilwatchdog.


Jayette formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.