Illinois legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner bickered over potholes, airplanes and other smaller-ticket items Tuesday as officials prepared to answer a contempt charge in federal court alleging the cash-strapped state missed a deadline to pay some service providers.
A court hearing was scheduled Wednesday for the state to explain why it missed an Aug. 21 deadline for a court-ordered payment for services to developmentally disabled residents living in community homes or larger facilities. The state comptroller reported that without a budget, the checking account has cash-flow problems.
But the focus Tuesday was on much smaller budget matters. The House spent the day working to reverse the Republican governor's cuts to child care programs and to release $146 million in fuel-tax money to help cities fill potholes — four-tenths of 1 percent of what the state usually spends annually, and the governor lauded a $2.5 million sale of surplus aircraft.
Rauner's spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the Legislature's piecemeal spending approach represents Democrats' attempt to "claw their way to a massive tax hike by hamstringing the state with an unbalanced budget."
The state is ending its eighth week without a budget for the year that began July 1. Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly have been unable to agree. Democrats favor raising taxes to fill a multibillion-dollar hole. Rauner insists on first approving basic changes to make it easier for business to flourish and obliterate corruption to restore faith in politics.
Much of the money is already spoken for. School spending was approved. Federal court decrees and state court orders eat up much of the rest of the available revenue.
But Comptroller Leslie Munger announced Tuesday that, even with tax money continuing to come in, the cash flow is crimped. The state faced an Aug. 21 payment deadline for services for more than 10,000 developmentally disabled residents who need help with daily tasks while living in community homes or larger state facilities.
Munger spokesman Rich Carter said the state paid $71 million Tuesday to the organizations that run the community homes. But a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the 2011 lawsuit settlement said the residence operators haven't seen any money.
"If they don't receive timely payment, many of them will have to close," said Barry Taylor, a lawyer for Equip for Equality. "Our clients are placed in jeopardy."
At the Capitol, House Democrats convened for a weekly session and took up a disputed child care program and motor-fuel tax disbursements to local governments. Lawmakers took no action but heard testimony on both issues in a hearing before the full House.
A committee sent to the floor a Senate-approved measure that restores funding for the child care program for working parents. With no budget to pay for it, Rauner imposed an emergency rule that severely restricted eligibility for the program — his administration acknowledged up to 90 percent of those who previously qualified no longer do.
Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, brought up the Department of Human Services reassignment of Linda Saterfield, state child care administrator since 1998, after she testified before a legislative committee that the cuts would be "devastating." DHS spokeswoman Veronica Vera said last week that Saterfield was transferred for "internal personnel reasons" without elaborating.
Democratic leadership introduced a measure authorizing the release of $146 million to city and county governments, the portion owed them from a 19-cents-per-gallon motor-fuel tax. The Illinois Department of Transportation has collected $57 million since July 1 but had no appropriation authority to dispense it, spokesman Guy Tridgell said. Lawmakers took no vote on the proposal, which also included $120 million for child care services.
Rauner made no personal appearances, but in a news release pronounced the sale of five surplus aircraft for $2.5 million after three previously failed attempts to attract buyers. Rauner said disposal of the machines also means $1 million saved in upcoming inspections and repairs.