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Illinois Lawmakers’ Pay Blocked While State Waits for Budget Compromise

“It hurts my heart. It’s very sad,” Cheryl West told KTVI-TV as she mourned the closing of Horseshoe Lake State Park in Pontoon Beach, Ill. “There has to be a way to keep this park open.”

But alas, Cheryl and her fellow Illinois residents have had to come to terms with the grim realization there is no way to keep Horseshoe Lake State Park or Ramsey Lake State Park in central Illinois from closing.

They can blame the “Park Closed” signs on Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly and Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who have yet to craft a compromise budget for the 2015 fiscal year that began July 1. No bills can be paid until they do.

PJM reported the first word of budget problems in Springfield came with the news that state lottery winners couldn’t be guaranteed of being paid their winnings. Since then, state payments for everything from garbage collection at Horseshoe Lake Park to the cleanup of fuel leaking out of underground storage tanks have stopped.

The legislature and Rauner also bear the responsibility for the state’s EPA not having enough money to pay the companies that have been cleaning up leaking underground fuel tanks.

What’s really frustrating to state EPA Director Lisa Bonnet is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency actually has the money to pay vendors for the underground-tank clean-up program. They just can’t use it.

On paper, the EPA has $53 million in the clean-up fund. But the AP reported Bonnet said the agency can’t write any checks because they don’t have legislative approval to actually spend the money.

The Chicago Tribune reported the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has sent an email to the university’s deans, directors, and department heads that called for plans to start laying off civil service employees because of a lack of state funding.

University managers have until May 1 to submit their ideas for an orderly layoff program.

That puts the jobs of 4,332 civil service workers at the university in jeopardy.

Northeastern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University, and Chicago State University have already issued layoff notices because their state funding has been cut off.

“I’m profoundly shocked at the apparent willingness to suffocate higher education in the state of Illinois, while at the same time, the governor, speaking about the economic future and desire, has not seen fit to fund the very engine that contributes the most,” Chicago State University president Thomas Calhoun told WTTW-TV.

Whether it’s justice or karma, Illinois lawmakers and Rauner also have only themselves to blame for not being paid until they do the budget deal.

State Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said lawmakers’ and state officials’ paychecks will have to go into the stacks of $7.8 billion worth of other unpaid state bills.

“We are all in this together,” Munger said. “We all have to wait and stand in line together. All I am doing is putting us on par with all of the other obligations the state has.”

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D) doesn’t think it is right to hold up his paycheck.

“I will be at work every day doing what I am supposed to do,” Ford told WBBM-TV. “We are supposed to get paid.”

Ford’s outrage aside, he, along with the Illinois General Assembly, Gov. Bruce Rauner, other state officials, and even Munger herself will not be paid until the state has a budget.

“I am not trying to be punitive,” Munger added. “I am just trying to be fair.”

Neither Gov. Rauner nor Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is giving their colleagues any hope their paychecks — $1.3 million per month — will be released anytime soon.

The AP reported Rauner and Madigan showed up in the same room for budget negotiations on April 14, the first such meeting since December.

Madigan said the budget deadlock was Rauner’s plan from the beginning. While Madigan admitted he and Rauner have drastically different views of the responsibilities of state government, he also promised not to change his philosophy.

“State government has a vital role to play in working to provide needed services for those who need them the most,” Madigan said.

Rauner also vowed not to budge an inch.

“It’s hand-to-hand combat … we gotta stay persistent, stay true to our principles of freedom and opportunity and growth,” Rauner said.

While it may be true state officials only have themselves to blame for their payless paydays, Andy Shaw, the president and CEO of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, said Illinois residents need to shoulder some of the responsibility.

He said it’s time for some public outrage.

Shaw warned it might take something like a decision to close Chicago State University because of a lack of state funds, or a failure to pay for K-12 education or even payless paydays for all state workers to break the hearts of thousands of Illinois residents like Cheryl West, who lost Horseshoe Park to shame the General Assembly and Gov. Rauner into a compromise.

“Any of those sparks could ignite a settlement fire if they’re accompanied by more yelling, screaming and other forms of public pressure than we’ve seen so far,” Shaw wrote on his blog.

“But sadly,” he added, “it may also take a high-visibility human tragedy that’s directly or even indirectly connected to the state’s failure to adequately protect our most vulnerable residents.”