Businesses, others still not getting paid in Illinois' budget war

One business cries out, 'Please help!'

 
 
Updated 12/29/2015 10:35 AM
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  • A company that pulls old storage tanks out of the ground is feeling the pinch as the state continues on without a budget in place.

    A company that pulls old storage tanks out of the ground is feeling the pinch as the state continues on without a budget in place. courtesy of Marlin Environmental

Robert Renguso's business is to pull giant gasoline tanks out of the ground for other companies, stopping environmental messes before they start or progress further.

An obscure state account collects about a penny for every gallon of gas sold to pay for Renguso's St. Charles-based company and others like it to do the work. But as lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner continue their historically long budget fight, the state account providing that penny isn't paying out.

Now, Renguso's Marlin Environmental is in debt and faces possible foreclosure proceedings beginning next month.

A few weeks ago, he sent a detailed letter to lawmakers explaining his plight. It began simply.

"Dear Senator," it read. "Please Help!"

After Rauner signed the Illinois education budget this year, a court decision is keeping state employees paid and other agreements are paying out for other programs, so the state continues to largely operate as it enters 2016 -- and its seventh month -- without a spending plan in place.

But Renguso's business is among those still feeling the pain as the political fight continues.

Rauner insists a package of pro-business plans be considered as part of budget talks. Democrats continue to resist, saying those proposals are anti-union.

Renguso thought last week his company might get some relief, perhaps getting money for work his company performed in the last fiscal year, before July 1. But that now looks to be a long shot. Any work since July 1 can't be paid for without lawmaker action.

"I feel trapped in a political situation that's beyond my control," he said.

State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, has legislation that he says would start paying out some of the state accounts that don't come from its general checkbook. He argues that those special accounts are still being filled with tax money, so there's no reason not to pay them. Doing so won't raise the state's deficit.

Plus, he says, lawmakers just this month agreed to start paying out from other funds for, among others, lottery winners -- who had sued -- and municipalities' mayors -- who had complained.

Included in the payout list this month: The secretary of state's office can now pay out $55,000 in special license plate money it collects to the "Illinois Professional Golfers Association Foundation to help Association members expose Illinois youngsters to the game of golf."

Harris doesn't see why other businesses and agencies whose money has already been collected can't be paid.

"Why is one more important than the other?" he said.

But his idea can't come to pass soon, if at all. The Illinois House isn't set to meet until Jan. 13 and 14, then not again until Jan. 27 for what's scheduled as Rauner's State of the State address.

The governor says he wants the budget completed as a full package going forward, complicating any future efforts to address issues he might consider "piecemeal."

Universities and colleges, too, are among those not getting paid.

"In the spirit of compromise, the governor worked with the General Assembly to keep our roads safe and maintain critical state operations during the winter months," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. "Going forward, the governor remains committed to negotiating a complete balanced budget with structural reforms."

Rauner and top lawmakers have begun meeting more regularly and publicly in recent weeks, but groups and people who depend on Illinois for programs will have to wait, watch and wonder when the budget impasse will end.

Because court orders and other agreements have the state spending at last year's levels when the income tax rate was higher, the state is building a bigger deficit even as some people and institutions are going without.

Rick German, executive director of Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health, said the center is getting about half the $1.3 million it usually gets to help care for patients. The center's programs are paid out of the general state budget.

He said psychiatric patients could be left with nowhere to go if doctors have to be cut and aren't available.

German said that so far, the center is drawing down its charity reserves but can't do that forever.

"It's like taking the auto mechanics out of the auto shop," he said.

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