Illinois budget impasse hits local people, institutions

Posted: Dec. 17, 2016 10:25 pm

QUINCY — It has been about a year and a half since Quincy Teen Reach received any state funding, and no one knows how much longer the Illinois budget impasse will continue.

Dennis Williams, who has directed the local Teen Reach for 11 years, said the state used to provide $116,000 of the program’s $158,000 annual budget. Funding stopped in July 2015, when Illinois started a new fiscal year without a budget. Now, in the closing days of 2016, lawmakers still haven’t got a true budget and a stopgap spending plan has run its course.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget office estimates the state’s backlog of unpaid bills will hit a record $13.5 billion by July if the governor and the General Assembly remain deadlocked over a complete spending plan. If the impasse continues through the end of Rauner’s term in office in 2018, as some Democrats have predicted, the bill backlog would reach a staggering $27.7 billion.

“We’ve been able to keep operating because we’re in a community where the community steps up to the plate and is compassionate about the kids. I just wish the state would get off the (fighting) and work together,” Williams said.

The after-school program that involves 50 to 60 kids most weekdays is only one of the many places hit by the budget gridlock. There has been lots of collateral damage as Illinois’ top government officials have battled.

Last week, Rauner, a Republican, called on the Illinois Senate and House to pass a budget, but he said he’d only sign it if it includes a property tax freeze and term limits. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, wants to work on a budget without the side issues. Madigan also pointed out that the Illinois Constitution requires the governor present a balanced budget, rather than the Legislature, which Rauner has failed to do during his term in office.

State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said legislative leaders and Rauner didn’t make any headway during the recent veto session. Sullivan said the Legislature is scheduled to be in session Jan. 9 and 10 before new lawmakers are seated Jan. 11. Sullivan’s term will end that day, and Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, will be sworn into office.

“Right at the moment, things are at loggerheads. I don’t see much happening until the end of the year. It’s working toward a crisis,” said Sullivan, who chose to not seek re-election.

Local programs and agencies already are being hurt with the lack of a full-year spending plan.

In addition to Teen Reach, Sullivan said soil and water conservation districts have been kept in operation by a little federal money. County fairs have not gotten the usual funds through the Department of Agriculture of Illinois.

The West Central Mass Transit District shut down Oct. 16 after the state was nearly $700,000 behind on payments to the six-county bus service. Transit District Executive Director R. Jean Jumper said the closure became necessary when the Illinois comptroller’s office said no payment could be made until December at the earliest.

“Public transportation services will not be reinstated until such time that funds owed the system by the state of Illinois Department of Transportation are received,” Jumper said.

The service has provided nearly 200,000 one-way trips per year in Brown, Pike, Schuyler, Scott, Cass and Morgan counties. About 40 percent of the passengers were catching rides to work at Dot Foods in Mount Sterling, Cargill in Cass County and other area employers.

State Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, would like to see a budget passed by a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, but he sees “a very slim chance” of that happening due to political polarization.

“Folks in our area are being affected,” Frese said.

He said John Wood Community College, Quincy University, Blessing Hospital, nursing homes and other health care providers all are being hurt.

Don Hess, a retiree from JWCC, said health insurance claims for retirees are paid by the state. With hospitals and doctors getting late payments, retirees are getting billed.

“The state is letting claims accumulate at least a year before making payment. So the provider gets tired of waiting for payment. They start billing the retiree, and ultimately wind up threatening the retiree with collection action to get the money they are owed,” Hess said.

Although Hess said local providers had been understanding about the situation, some doctors, clinics and hospitals are threatening collection action against the retirees.

JWCC President Michael Elbe said the school has had to rely less on the state during the past two years. In fiscal 2015, the school budgeted $2.178 million from the state. This year only $811,321 was anticipated, and it has received about $554,000 between the stopgap funding bill and a career and technical grant.

“We’re focusing on things we can control,” Elbe said.

“In the last five years the college has proactively decreased the overall operating budget by $1.4 million and has increased credit hour enrollment in the last five consecutive semesters.”

Western Illinois University president Jack Thomas said the budget crisis has caused some students to enroll outside of Illinois.

“The university has been forced to make difficult decisions that have impacted our employees and the region,” Thomas said.

About 2,700 students at WIU had sought a total of $5.5 million in Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants in each of the past three semesters. The state’s failure to pay those grants has concerned students and affected the university’s finances.

“A budget solution in Springfield is very important to WIU. However, with the recent funding we received and the spring tuition, WIU will be able to manage the cash needs of the university” in the coming semester, Thomas said.

Illinois budget impasse hits local people, institutions

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