Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is Illinois government becoming the ultimate financial deadbeat?

The next time I hear a state government official complain about people not meeting their financial obligations, I’m going to have to retort that they have become the ultimate collection of deadbeats.

For while some people want to downplay the impact of state government’s financial problems and lack of a state budget by saying that 90 percent of government operates by court decree, it would seem the remaining 10 percent is enough to make our state look stupid.

WHAT BOTHERS ME is the latest financial incident impacting the state – the fact that a company is repossessing five trucks it leased to the state Department of Corrections.

The company, known as the Larson Group, negotiated a contract by which the state pays them $68,000 per year to provide trucks used by Illinois Corrections Industries to ship the goods that prison inmates make to locations where they are then sold to the public.

But the lack of a state budget (which is an Illinois Constitution requirement) means that the bills for the time period from July through now have yet to be paid.

The Larson Group made the decision to take back the trucks, even though the Chicago Tribune reported that the terms of their lease with the state called for the trucks to remain in state use through the end of the next fiscal year.

HAVING AN OUTSTANDING debt of just over $17,000 was the point at which Larson Group decided the state was no longer worthy of being trusted. The trucks, currently parked at a facility in downstate Lincoln, are supposed to be returned on Thursday.

The fact that the bill will eventually get paid once our state officials get off their stubborn derrieres and negotiate a balanced budget (which becomes more difficult the longer they wait to do so) wasn’t enough to keep the company’s faith in doing business with state government.

Now the Tribune reported that Corrections Department officials have other vehicles they can put into use to make the shipments for corrections industries. There won’t be immediate delay in the goods made by prison inmates for next to no wage actually making it to the public.

Although the image of the state being the target of repossession is an embarrassment – just as much as the reports in recent weeks about how the utility bills for the Capitol building and other state government facilities in Springfield aren’t getting paid.

FORTUNATELY FOR STATE operations, no one has cut off the electricity or the water supply. But we’re developing a real deadbeat reputation – one that ought to be particularly embarrassing for those who claim the financial standoff is somehow justified because it will result in taking down the labor unions that are somehow the cause of our real problems.

Who’s to say we don’t start getting a flood of similar repossessions?

Because we really don’t seem to be getting any closer to resolving the financial problem – which this time isn’t so much financial as much as politically partisan.

Nor do I believe the rhetoric that somehow January is going to be a magical point in time at which a budget deal will be reached.

PERSONALLY, I CAME to the realization in mid-August that the “sides” in this political fight were stubborn enough to create the possibility that Fiscal 2016 could be the year we never get a budget. As it turns out, even if a budget deal is reached, the spending already done for the past four months has been at a higher rate than the state can afford.

State officials are concerned they don’t want to pass anything resembling a tax increase. They may have to pass a larger one now than they would have had to back in May to make up for the money that may have been wasted.

Which makes me think the best thing that could have happened to Illinois would have been if the judge in St. Clair County (the St. Louis suburbs in Illinois) had ruled months ago that the lack of a budget REALLY DID MEAN state employees couldn’t have been paid; rather than going out of his way to rule against the Cook County judge who would have cut off the payroll.

Because the pressure those workers would have put on Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly with their anger would have ensured we’d have had a budget by Aug. 1 at the latest.


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