Alternatives sought as Illinois budget stalemate drags on

Kevin Beese
“State workers could start missing paychecks as of July 15,” said State Comptroller Leslie Giessler Munger.  Photo by Yinan Chen/Wikimedia Commons

“State workers could start missing paychecks as of July 15,” said State Comptroller Leslie Giessler Munger. Photo by Yinan Chen/Wikimedia Commons

State workers remain on the job, but are unsure when they will see their next paycheck. State parks and museums remain open, but for how long? And Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly’s high-priced game of chicken has officials of social service agencies holding their breath and biting their nails.

The state budget battle wages on, but could get a one-month reprieve July 8 when the Illinois House takes up a one-month spending plan already approved by the state Senate.

State workers have said they will stay on the job despite the lack of a budget to pay them, but their patience is running thin.

“The current situation can’t go on indefinitely,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of Council 31 for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with offices in Chicago and Springfield. “We urge the governor to stop demanding that the General Assembly approve his unrelated agenda items that would harm the middle class as a precondition to budget talks, and instead work with lawmakers to fairly fund state government and the important services it provides.”

Rauner has said the General Assembly needs to approve pro-business measures before he will sign off on a state budget.

While state coffers may be able to weather a few weeks without funding, organizations that assist struggling families say poor Illinois families do not have that luxury.

“This cannot be a game of chicken. The human and financial consequences of failure are too real,” said Ric Estrada, president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, a Chicago-based organization that aims to help families learn, earn, heal and thrive. “Low-income families and vulnerable Illinoisans should not be collateral damage of a political stalemate.”

Metropolitan Family Services is one of more than 300 agencies to sign an open letter to the governor and legislative branch asking them to take immediate action to approve a budget that includes enough revenue to support services that children and families need.

“We have made short-term contingency plans to continue core services into early July, but we cannot use our line of credit to pay for failure in Springfield,” Estrada said. “Many smaller agencies are already suspending essential services and laying off staff.”

State Comptroller Leslie Giessler Munger has asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan to seek an order from the courts that would allow her office to pay state employees during the impasse. A similar order was obtained during the state budget showdown in 2007.

“The contribution of state employees to maintaining public services and public order is beyond dispute,” Munger said. “Allowing these employees to be paid on time and at the correct rate of pay until the budget impasse is resolved will also promote the legitimate goals of government to maintain critical services.”

Without action, Munger said, state workers could start missing paychecks as of July 15.

Munger said her office will continue to provide whatever resources are necessary to get the job done.

“This is not a game. The budget impasse has serious consequences for families, organizations and businesses across our state,” Munger said. “It is time for lawmakers and the governor to find common ground and enact a balanced budget.”

Cities, towns and counties will continue on per usual as their state income, sales tax and motor fuel tax funds will continue to be dispersed.

“Local governments, such as Peoria County, will continue operations regardless of the lack of a balanced budget at the state level,” said Andrew A. Rand, Peoria County chairman. “Most essential services that are considered the safety and welfare of our citizens are not affected.”

At least one lawmaker is foregoing her state pay until a budget agreement is finalized, feeling lawmakers have not earned their pay.

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, has announced that she will not accept her pay until a full year’s budget is passed and signed into law.

“A lack of a budget is a failure to protect our seniors, veterans and the disabled,” Kifowit said. “Without a budget, many middle-class families will be cut off from the services they need to survive; and I will not accept a paycheck.”

Kifowit has sent a letter to Munger, asking her to be removed from the state’s direct deposit system and instead to mail her a paper check. The lawmaker has vowed not to deposit a state check until a fiscal year 2016 budget is signed into law.

“The governor has said that he believes a shutdown would be good for Illinois, but without a budget, many senior citizens will lose their Meals on Wheels and those living with disabilities will lose home-care services,” Kifowit said. “I am willing to work together to protect the most vulnerable in our society from further harm, and to stand in solidarity with those being hurt by this situation.”


End — Alternatives sought as Illinois budget stalemate drags on