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posted: 2/9/2010 12:01 AM

State can't make rent? Get roommates

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When it comes to paying bills, the state plays by different rules than the rest of us do.

If the Illinois comptroller's office doesn't have the cash, it doesn't pay, and there are relatively few repercussions. For instance, Boller Construction Co.'s bill for more than $1 million in work at College of Lake County's Grayslake and Waukegan campuses sat for more than six months before the company got its money, Daily Herald reporter Bob Susnjara reported Monday. Rent for the secretary of state's driver's license facility in Libertyville climbed to $70,000 over seven months before the landlord saw his check,

Just try that with your mortgage company.

But now, landlords who rent space to the state for elected officials' district offices are starting to threaten eviction. State Sen. Dan Duffy's landlord, GNP Management Group of Tinley Park, sent notice last week demanding the state pay four months of back rent for his third-floor space on Main Street in Barrington.

It's a sorry state of affairs with few palatable solutions. Lawmakers can pay their monthly rents of up to $2,000 out of pocket and then wait for reimbursement. But that expectation would restrict state service to the well-to-do.

Legislators can pay their bills out of campaign funds and then become ineligible for reimbursement. But that merger of campaign and legislative funds makes us particularly squeamish.

Local landlords shouldn't shoulder the burden. But it's hard to argue with the comptroller's priority of paying for education, social services and health care first.

While we don't think lawmakers should be forced into the undeserved role of deadbeats, we don't mind them sharing a little bit of the budget pain. After all, they helped dig the state's financial hole and have yet to act with real urgency to get us out of it.

So we suggest lawmakers' district offices, whenever possible, be relocated to other state-owned or state-leased property within their districts or, if need be, close by. While state agencies suffer through staff cuts or hiring freezes, here's a way to make use of their extra space. An Illinois Department of Transportation building in Schaumburg, a state of Illinois Field Office in Des Plaines, an Illinois Tollway building in Downers Grove, and Northern Illinois University satellites in Hoffman Estates and Naperville all might provide hospitable homes for state lawmakers and staff.

As for Duffy's 26th District, there's the driver's license facility in Libertyville and a Department of Children and Family Services office in Round Lake Beach. Both are fairly utilitarian. Still, going rent-free is something to think about when the wolves are at the door.