Pork Money Flows While Illinois Contractors Wait Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 12 August 2003 18:00
Pharmacists and road-builders have to wait months for their state-government reimbursements, but Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has managed to find the cash to green-light $200 million worth of pork-barrel projects.

The Illinois Pharmacists Association recently surveyed its members and came up with some surprising results.

The average pharmacist who responded to the survey is owed more than $181,000 in Medicaid reimbursements from the state. Some independent pharmacies are owed as much as $1.8 million.

The average time pharmacies must wait for the state to reimburse them after they’ve sold prescription drugs at the Medicaid rate is now 110 days – about four months. A year ago, the waiting period was 56 days – and that was widely considered too long.

The pharmacists say they are being paid much more slowly than hospitals and nursing homes, which apparently have more political pull in Springfield. They don’t expect to be paid again until the end of August, but only for expenses incurred through June.

Not long ago, the state borrowed $750 million to pay off its backlog of Medicaid bills, which triggered a more or less exact match of federal money. But that $1.5 billion total still left the state $500 million short of paying off its entire backlog, and, as it turned out, the vast majority of that $500 million was owed to pharmacists.

Pharmacists aren’t the only ones complaining about late payments. Road-builders are very upset about slow payments from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Quincy Herald-Whig reported recently that a local construction company working on a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 72 hasn’t been paid since the work started two months ago. The company is owed about $2 million.

Another Quincy-area construction company threatened to halt work on a community-college project until it was paid, according to the paper. In that instance, however, the state coughed up a partial payment and the work continued without interruption.

While pharmacists and road-builders spent the month of July waiting to be paid what’s owed them, Governor Rod Blagojevich was quietly releasing almost $200 million for pork-barrel projects.

The project approvals all came within the past month, according to documents I obtained. The projects, initiated during the George Ryan era, have been held up for months while Governor Blagojevich’s office decided which ones to okay.

The list of projects is dominated by House Republicans, a legislative caucus that worked closely with the Democratic governor all year. The House GOPs scored about 200 releases, worth tens of millions of dollars. The Senate Democrats were a fairly close second on the totem pole, followed by the House Democrats.

The Senate Republicans, who fought Governor Blagojevich at almost every turn during the spring legislative session, have so far received only a tiny handful of project go-aheads.

None of Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson’s projects was approved last month, including money for a hospital in his district. On the other hand, six projects worth over a million dollars were released for Senator Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who voted for Blagojevich’s controversial pension-bond program despite tons of heat from Watson.

The most prevalent rumor at the end of the spring session was that the governor would freeze out the Senate Republicans when it came time to un-freeze the pork dough. It looks like that is happening, so far at least.

The list also includes almost $30 million in projects initiated by former Governor George Ryan. In all of the articles published and broadcast about legislative initiatives, almost nothing has been written or said about gubernatorial initiatives. The former governor’s projects include a $2-million grant to the suburban town of Bolingbrook, and $5 million for the Holocaust Museum. Almost all of the money for projects on the massive list is in the form of bonds, so the cost to the state this fiscal year is minimal.

In July alone, according to the list, the governor released 380 grants, totaling more than $197 million. Just a tiny handful of those grants was accompanied by a press release from the governor, who actively campaigned against pork projects last year and revels in his reputation as a reform-minded, anti-pork budget-cutter. More projects are reportedly on their way, so stay tuned.

The complete list, which includes the names of legislators who requested each project, can be downloaded at (http://www.capitolfax.com/pork.htm).

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).