Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared ready Tuesday to reject a Democratic proposal aimed at keeping state services functioning for another month, leaving the state without a way to pay bills and leading to questions about what would happen Wednesday morning.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state's most powerful Democrat, said Tuesday his short-term fix would provide $2.3 billion to cover one month of state police protection, Medicaid health care coverage for the poor and disabled, child care and more.
“The purpose here is to provide that we would avoid the government shutdown,” the Chicago Democrat told reporters at the state Capitol after a day of politicians scurrying without a clear finish line in sight. Majority Democrats in the Senate were on board with the stop-gap plan.
Asked whether the governor would support Madigan's temporary budget, deputy chief of staff Mike Schrimpf pointed to Rauner's statement earlier in June that "an unbalanced short-term budget with no real reforms is still a phony budget and unacceptable to the people of Illinois."
Absent a budget deal, it was unclear what would happen with state government at the start of business Wednesday. Employee unions have said workers will punch in; there is enough money to pay them through mid-July. Services provided by private vendors could wind down or end because there's no guarantee there will be payment for them.
Rauner spent Tuesday morning visiting workers at state agencies, assuring them that he will do what he can to make sure they continue getting paid — the Democratic attorney general has warned his plan would be illegal. And Rauner bemoaned uncooperative Democrats who won't go along with business and political reforms he wants adopted before discussing the budget.
Rauner insists Illinois must freeze property taxes to give homeowners a break, put restrictions on liability lawsuits and compensation for workers' injuries to make business operations cheaper, allow for expansion and increase tax revenue. Term limits and impartial political map-drawing would keep officeholders accountable and thrifty, he says.
Madigan says the business changes would hurt middle-class workers and calls them “extreme.”
Rauner turned that term against the opposing party, saying his plans make “extreme common sense.”
“What is extreme in Illinois is our property tax burden, what is extreme is our deficit and our debt, what is extreme is our low economic growth, our low rate of job-creation and our high rate of conflicts of interest inside government,” Rauner said.
Democrats sent Rauner a $36 billion spending plan in June. He vetoed it because it was short on revenue by up to $4 billion. Democrats say he could have spent only parts of it to keep government moving forward while talks continued.
Rauner on Tuesday dismissed the idea that the anticipated confusion and commotion surrounding a shutdown could cause more harm.
“Change is hard,” Rauner said. “But we need to have change. If all we're going to do is keep the status quo, and if all we do is raise taxes to cover up the status quo, we'll continue in our long-term slow decline.”
The Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis held a vigil Tuesday evening in opposition to state budget cuts. The Lessie Bates House is a social service organization that depends on state money for part of its funding.
BIll Kreeb, executive director of Lessie Bates Neighborhood House, said: “Our concern as a faith-based community agency is not to have a budget developed that will have a negative impact on thousands of families, especially children in East St. Louis and all of St. Clair County. We're asking the governor and our legislators to do whatever is necessary to pass a budget to make sure provider agencies are able to continnue to provide services to the poorest families.”
Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, attended the Lessie Bates meeting and said Rauner’s demands should have nothing to do with the budget.
“He has never submitted a budget in bill form. He doesn’t want you all to know what he is not for. If he’s never submitted a budget, you’ve got to believe he intended to shut down services,” Clayborne said.
Madison County Community Development administers LIHEAP energy assistance and weatherization programs for low-income residents. Spokesman Jeff Wehling said the impact of a long shutdown would be “drastic” for the 22 service agencies that receive state grants through MCCD. They include Madison County Catholic Charities, Madison County Urban League, Senior Services Plus, Highland Meals on Wheels, Riverbend Family Ministries, New Shining Light Community Outreach in Madison, Operation Blessing, the Veterans Assistance Commission, the Glen-Ed Pantry and others, he said.
“I think it will impact a great deal of those in need and the less fortunate, senior citizens and kids,” Wehling said. “But one thing people don’t take into consideration is that the people who work for all these organizations... spend money in the county. That’s money spent for food, tuition for their kids, it’s gas stations and home-improvement stores. The initial impact will be felt most directly by those in need, but there is a far-reaching impact.”
Call for Help, a mental-health service organization in Belleville, said it has multiple programs that would be seriously impacted. A community stabilization program assisting homeless adults with mental illness and a recovery support center for the mentally ill both are funded through state grants. Other programs, including one that assists clients with rent and energy bills, are funded by federal grants administered by the state, and executive director Cheryl Compton said she did not know how those would be impacted.
“Even though we have funds in reserve for a situation like this, we could still have negative impacts,” Compton said. For example, when they need to admit a patient to the community stabilization program, they must get authorization through the Alton Mental Health Center, which is operated with state funds. If they shut down, she said, Call for Help cannot admit new patients.
“Some (social service) agencies will have reserve funds, and some won’t,” she said. “But the unanticipated ripple effect is almost as dramatic as not getting your funding.”
Others reported that the immediate impact, at least, would not be significant. The Main Street Community Center in Edwardsville operates its meals-on-wheels program with private funds, and thus is not dependent on the state, according to executive director Sara Berkbigler. It does have a federal grant administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services to provide transportation for seniors and the disabled, but Berkbigler said she has been assured that those funds are safe. There may be a delay is disbursement, she said, but it is a matching grant and they do have some reserves.
“Fortunately for us, we are not as reliant as many social services on state payments coming through,” she said. It would be about three or four months before they would have to seriously consider their options, she said.
Earlier this week, Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn sent a message to employees reassuring them that even if the state government closes its doors, SIU employees will still be paid thanks to cash resources sufficient to operate through the fall semester. SIUE is the second-largest employer in the metro-east with more than 2,500 employees. However, Dunn said they could not guarantee the jobs of those employed on grants, projects or contracted work paid directly by the state, who he said are “just as much a part of the SIU family as any other employee.”
SIU government liaison John Charles said they expect to keep their programs going for now. “We are hopeful the budget impasse will be solved soon and program funding will be restored,” Charles said. “If that proves not to be the case, we will re-evaluate the operations of these state-funded programs at that time.”
Dunn said that SIU cannot last indefinitely without its funding. “While we stand ready to partner in resolving the states fiscal issues, it can’t be done on the back of SIU specifically or Illinois higher education generally,” he said.
State worker pay
A letter obtained by The Associated Press shows that Rauner's personnel agency has concluded that he should continue paying state employees full wages during a budget impasse.
The letter from attorney Michael Basil of the Department of Central Management Services says that the same complex federal rule that allowed the state to make full payroll during a 2007 standoff creates the same situation today.
Rauner has pledged to meet payroll even if his stalemate with legislative Democrats continues through July. Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Monday that the 2007 court ruling did not set a precedent.
Basil's letter to a top Rauner lawyer indicates the same scenario applies. It would take so long to determine federally required base payments that officials should pay the full bill.