Illinois budget stalemate already taking toll

Illinois budget stalemate already taking toll

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SPRINGFIELD — The first signs of Illinois' budget stalemate began surfacing Wednesday when 17 people who work for a state-funded mental treatment program received pink slips.

John Markley, the chief executive officer of Centerstone, the largest behavioral treatment provider in southern Illinois, said the looming lack of state funding — combined with already late payments from the state — is forcing him to take steps to pare back services, including laying off employees.

"There isn't much room for error," said Markley, who oversees services in Illinois 27 southernmost counties.

The Centerstone layoffs, outlined during a hearing in front of the House Wednesday, came on the first day of the state's fiscal year. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly have been unable to agree on a spending plan, raising anxiety among state workers and beneficiaries of state services.

Rauner wants changes to state laws governing workers' compensation, local prevailing wage laws and civil justice rules that he says will make Illinois a more attractive place to do business.

Democrats say his changes would hurt the middle class.

The lack of a spending plan appeared to be affecting state vendors like Centerstone more than regular state operations.

At the state Board of Elections, for example, officials distributed a document noting that employee compensation and benefits would not be affected by the impasse.

"State employees will be paid for their work," noted Mickey Reinders, human resource manager at the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Providers were telling a different story.

Sara Howe, CEO of the Illinois Alcoholism Drug Dependence Association, warned that drug treatment and mental health care services for 70,000 Illinoisans could be in jeopardy at the end of the month if no funds are coming from the state.

"There is no mystery here. The only question is only when, not if," Howe told members of the House.

In addition to the Centerstone layoffs, Howe said another 22 providers will layoff staff and shutter services by the end of July.

Markley and Howe said without adequate funding, hospital emergency rooms will see an increase of individuals arriving with a mental health or addiction crisis and county jails will witness a surge of inmates.

Homeless shelters and domestic abuse shelters also expressed concern.

"We are weighing out how long we can keep our doors open. As of right now, its a day by day thing," said Angela Bertoni, chief executive officer of Springfield-based Sojourn Shelter & Services Inc., which serves victims of domestic violence.

In the Capitol, lawmakers and Rauner continued the verbal and parliamentary jousting that has dominated Springfield since the first Republican governor in 12 years took office in January.

Although Democrats say passage of a $2.2 billion, one-month spending plan would ensure there would be funding to pay for prison guards, state police and social service programs in the short term, they could not say specifically when or if those programs would shut down if the temporary budget isn't approved, raising questions about its necessity.

One version moved through the Senate with no Republican votes. A second version failed to garner enough support in the House.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said he believes the temporary budget would allow programs to continue uninterrupted while talks for a permanent plan are underway.

"We don't believe any state employees are volunteers," said Manar, who represents a district with thousands of state workers.

State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, also said she's been hearing from her constituents, many of whom work for state government.

"People who work for government agencies are starting to call me and say, `What's going to happen? Am I going to get my paycheck? Should I go to work? Should I not go to work?'" Scherer said.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he voted "yes" on the temporary budget because of the uncertainty facing state workers at prisons, veterans homes and state troopers.

"I think a shutdown would devastate each and every one of our districts," Phelps told his colleagues.

Rauner, however, signaled he would veto the temporary spending plan if it reaches his desk. His top budget aide issued a memo saying the proposal would be unconstitutional because it would lead to an unbalanced budget.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, urged Democrats to try and find a way to compromise with the governor.

"Let's just tone it down a little. We need you to come a little ways toward us," Righter said.

For now, the status of the stalemate is in limbo for the next two weeks. Although the House returns to action next Wednesday, the Senate is not scheduled to return to the Capitol until July 14.

kurt.erickson@lee.net / 217-782-4043

On Twitter: @Illinois_Stage

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