GOP lawmaker demands proof or apology for Rauner claim

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker challenged GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner Thursday to prove his claim that the Democratic House speaker improperly influenced an autonomous agency's decision to cancel a state consulting contract.

Rep. David McSweeney said Rauner made a "really serious charge" when he alleged his political nemesis, Speaker Michael Madigan, pressured the state's independent monitor to end the $12.5 million contract dealing with Medicaid services.

"I've seen no proof. I'd like to see proof, or the governor needs to apologize," the Barrington Hills Republican said.

Rauner's office did not respond to a request for elaboration or comment.

The demand came during a legislative hearing over a $63 billion Medicaid overhaul by Rauner's Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Part of that deal included a $12.5 million, no-bid contract to consultant McKinsey & Co.

Healthcare director Felicia Norwood had argued the deal was exempt from an open bidding process under an exception in the procurement law for preparing for an anticipated lawsuit.

The chief procurement officer, Ellen Daley, who is appointed by the independent Executive Ethics Commission, found no evidence of that. She nullified the pact on Tuesday, finding it should have been offered to the lowest and best bidder.

Under Illinois law, the governor's administration awards contracts after a bidding process. The state's chief procurement department is supposed to decide, without political influence, whether the bidding followed protocol.

McSweeney made the demand in Chicago during a hearing of the House Appropriations-Human Services Committee called to continue scrutiny of a $63 billion plan to expand managed health care to low-income Medicaid patients.

Democrats say Daley took the action under tighter procurement restrictions that Rauner signed into law last summer after the Legislature bowed to his demand for purchasing reform. However, he criticized the changes Thursday as too weak, in part because of resistance from Madigan.

"He controls a lot of the procurement people through his patronage operation. He likes the current procurement system," Rauner said in remarks to the Chicago Tribune , adding that Madigan has "heavy influence" over Daley.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown called it "empty talk." Daley did not respond to requests for comment.

Under questioning from McSweeney during the House Appropriations-Human Services Committee in Chicago, Norwood declined to comment on whether she thought Daley was honest and whether Madigan influenced the decision.

Norwood has been in the line of fire from legislative Democrats for months. The appropriations committee chairman, Chicago Democrat Greg Harris, tried to stop the administration last spring when it declined to use a standard bidding process in soliciting providers for the Medicaid transformation, in which 800,000 more low-income residents will be assigned physicians and get resources to focus on illness-prevention.

The four-year deal represents a 40 percent increase over current Medicaid managed-care costs, but Norwood maintains that it will save up to $300 million a year. Even though not required to offer formal bids, HFS asked interested insurers to submit cost proposals, many of which were reduced to ensure a piece of the contract.

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Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/john%20o'connor

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