Riopell: Social service leaders expect pain as state can't pay bills
Illinois is famous for its inability to pay its bills on time, and suburban agencies that care for the disabled, elderly and addicted are among those often left in the lurch.
Things had gotten a little better recently as state officials sought to make payments first to the groups that needed funds the most.
Now, local social service leaders think they'll get hit again since the state has missed its budget deadlines and can't pay any new bills. No one has any idea when the budget gridlock between Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will end.
"It's going to get bad again," said Howard Reicheneker, interim executive director for the Palatine-based Countryside Association for People with Disabilities.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan is asking the courts to rule on which bills Comptroller Leslie Munger can pay during the impasse. A judge could provide relief to some agencies, or could decide bills can't be paid.
"There's a lot of ambiguity in all these laws," Munger said.
The next court date is Tuesday.
Reicheneker said he knows the Countryside Association will get state payment eventually for its services.
"Eventually in capital letters," he said.
Lawmakers this week debated whether to approve a stopgap plan to pay some July bills, but that idea failed. Rauner's administration has called it unconstitutional.
Democrats say it would keep services going while the budget fight goes on.
Republicans say it's procrastination that would delay a real budget.
And so gridlock goes on.
"The payment delay is what scares me to death," said Bob Okazaki, director of the Park Ridge-based Avenues to Independence, which provides housing, job placement and assistance for people with disabilities.
When is the deadline?
The Lisle-based Ray Graham Association reported it will cut off respite care for about 350 families this week because it's unclear whether there will be money for the program in an eventual Illinois budget.
But some other suburban agencies say they can function for a few months without state payments and would dip into savings to keep services intact. That means the true cost of a state budget delay might not be fully visible for a while.
Rauner's administration says state employees will stay on the job and will get paid, though the legal wrangling about whether midmonth paychecks can go out hasn't ended yet. Munger said Thursday she believes state workers should be paid.
Social service agencies say the longer a budget impasse goes, the more difficult it will become. Judie Caribeaux, director of Naperville's Family Shelter Service, said she's asked a donor to push a yearly contribution up from the fall to the summer.
Reicheneker said social service agencies get caught in the middle because his clients don't have a lot of lobbying power with state politicians.
"It's up to us to provide that voice," he said. "They need to grow up down there."
No big COD changes
Earlier this year, state lawmakers of both parties responded to the College of DuPage's $763,000 severance deal with President Robert Breuder with a flurry of legislation.
House lawmakers agreed to have the state do a sweeping audit of the college. But other proposals lie dormant months later.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican, said she knew some of the proposals would need to be worked on over time, but is disappointed a plan to cap severance packages to one year of salary and benefits was rejected.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, said he's disappointed his plan to prevent colleges from naming buildings after people as a condition of a severance agreement didn't go anywhere.
He said Senate Democrats could try some more ideas this summer.
Ives said she'd keep working on it.
"Here's what's not going to go away. The cost of higher education is egregious," she said.
After state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said he wouldn't take his paycheck if state employees missed theirs, several Democrats have made a similar move.
Among them: state Reps. Michelle Mussman of Schaumburg, Laura Fine of Glenview, Stephanie Kifowit of Aurora, Natatlie Manley of Joliet and Anna Moeller of Elgin.
Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg says he's raised $600,000 in the second quarter of 2015 in his bid for the 8th Congressional District.
His primary election opponents include Cullerton and state Sen. Mike Noland of Elgin. All candidates have to disclose their fundraising totals later this month.
Rauner has appointed Matthew Hower of Palatine to the state's Financial Reporting Standards Board, a panel that is supposed to improve the "timeliness, quality, and processing of financial reporting" of Illinois. It's an unpaid position.