Each layer peeled away from this over-ripe, festering onion known as the Illinois budget crisis reveals more cascading consequences to be paid by more unintended victims.
Take, for example, the entire City of Chester (and every other Illinois town that is home to a state penitentiary).
Through May, the state was $1.36 million into arrears to the city on unpaid water and sewer bills at Menard Correctional Center. It left Mayor Tom Page and his constituents over a barrel and on the verge of some tough choices.
Certainly, the water department would be justified in shutting the utilities off, as it would any other customer who fell 12 months delinquent. But what does that solve if it means the prison has to close, thus putting 1,300 local Menard employees out of work and without a pay check to spend in Chester businesses?
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And what new problems would it cause for the state?
Page brings a unique perspective to the situation, having previously served as Menard's warden and having had to operate the prison without water during the Flood of 1993. He was able to make due by having 300-or-so portable toilets shipped in, along with tankers of potable water for washing and cardboard cartons for drinking.
This is a much different disaster, however: What vendor would deliver those temporary amenities in such large quantities without knowing when or if it will be paid?
What, then, would the state do with Menard's 3,800 inmates? Ship them to other over-crowded prisons in other cities with mayors facing the same hard choices as Page? And how much more would that cost compared to the past-due water bill?
Page was able to catch his breath Thursday with the legislature's 11th-hour stop-gap spending plan that will cover its delinquencies and all new bills for the next six months.
But what happens after December?
Without a full budget and the security that comes with it, the mayor, the water department and the Chester economy remain prisoners of uncertainty.