Judge: 'Impending sense of doom' could force state budget fix

  • Kane County courts and others across the suburbs will feel the pinch if funding for court reporters runs out, judges say.

    Kane County courts and others across the suburbs will feel the pinch if funding for court reporters runs out, judges say. BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/12/2015 5:26 PM

Time is running out for lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner to find a budget fix that will allow the state to keep paying for court reporters across the suburbs.

The money for their salaries runs out at the end of the month, raising big questions about how courts will continue to operate without reporters tapping away during hearings the law requires them to attend.


Kane County Chief Judge Judith Brawka said this week that one thing is clear: The courts won't close down completely. Judges won't allow it.

But changes could be coming soon. The state's more than 20 chief judges have been told by the office that runs the court system to each come up with a "emergency operating plan" to, basically, figure out how to go forward in case the state doesn't come through.

That means some suburban counties could start making cutbacks or changes well before the end-of-March deadline.

The chief judges are set to meet March 20 to talk about those ways forward. There are a lot of options, none easy, Brawka said.

Brawka says she remains hopeful Rauner and top Democrats will cut a deal before funding runs out. Deadlines, she says, and the "impending sense of doom" that come with them, tend to motivate deal-making.

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"At a crisis point, they find a solution," Brawka said.

Not just courts

The state is set to run out of money for all kinds of things before its budget year ends June 30. The budget made by Democratic lawmakers and approved by former Gov. Pat Quinn already has run out of money for the program that helps low-income parents pay for day care.

It will run out of money to make payroll at some of the state's prisons.

This particular money crunch is different from the Rauner budget proposal mayors and human services providers are protesting. That is far from being approved by lawmakers and won't take effect until July 1.

Why the state?

I asked the attorney representing the court reporters why the state pays their salaries, rather than counties.

He didn't know.

I asked Comptroller Leslie Munger's staff the same question. The money comes out of her office's budget, but the comptroller doesn't coordinate the program and has no part in managing it.

"It's pretty walled off," spokesman Rich Carter said. "And I don't know why."

What's next ...

House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman says top Democrats and Rauner met this week and could be on the way to solving the funding shortfall next week or the week after. They would let Rauner move money around to plug some budget holes, potentially cutting spending of other programs in the process.


The deep cuts in the budget for next year Rauner proposed had some Democrats feeling skittish about giving the new governor broad powers to move money around, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. They want to know precisely what he plans to do.

"The more specific the governor will be, the easier it is to pass that bill," Brown said.

Chief questioner

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas of Wheaton asked the most -- and most pointed -- questions during oral arguments of the state's big 2013 pension-cutting law.

Thomas, a Republican, echoed a main union point: Why should the state be allowed to break a retirement benefit contract when the state's pension debt is state officials' fault in the first place?

"So what do we do with the blame ultimately going back to the state?" Thomas said.

There is no schedule for a decision.

Last word

Lawmakers Thursday honored former Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka on the House and Senate floors.

"She was almost uniquely loved by the people of the state," state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said. "She gave off a genuineness that people really appreciated and not only found refreshing, but embracing and that powered her through a lot of political fights."

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