No budget for state government? No problem -- yet

Doug Finke

For the second straight summer, state government is starting a new budget year with no permanent spending plan in place and no firm timetable for having one.

But state employees will continue to work because their paychecks are not yet in jeopardy. And the state will continue paying bills left over from the just-completed fiscal year.

“There’s a little bit of leeway in the process,” said Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, an architect of the fiscal 2009 budget that has yet to take effect. “It doesn’t really cause the process to shut down.”

That will change in a matter of days, though, if Gov. Rod Blagojevich takes action on the budget. The House and Senate finally sent the budget to Blagojevich Monday, a month after lawmakers approved it and adjourned. Monday was the latest day the General Assembly could hold onto the budget bills before sending them to the governor.

Blagojevich’s office gave no indication what he plans to do with the budget or how quickly. Blagojevich last week threatened to cut $1.5 billion from the $59 billion spending plan if lawmakers don’t act by July 9 to balance it.

“At this point, we need to review and verify the bills,” said Blagojevich spokeswoman Kelley Quinn in an e-mail. “We are still hoping that the House does the responsible thing...”

That includes authorizing the governor to take $530 million out of restricted state funds, borrowing $16 billion to pay down pension debt and passing a public works construction bill.

“I don’t know of anyone who is suggesting that going back to Springfield is a good idea,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

In a letter to Blagojevich, lawmakers and other officials last week, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes said his office needs a budget in place by July 10 to ensure that about 4,900 employees are paid on time July 15. Those employees mostly work for the six statewide elected officials.

The following week, paychecks for another 8,200 employees could be in jeopardy.

Quinn didn’t promise that Blagojevich would act on the budget by July 10, but said “the governor does not intend for there to be a government shutdown.”

Some state payments will be made whether or not a budget gets signed quickly.

Checks to state government retirees and “income support” payments to the needy are paid regardless. School aid payments are not in jeopardy yet. The state makes a double school aid payment in June and none in July.

However, Hynes said a delay in enacting a budget “affects the issuance of tens of millions (of dollars) each and every day to state vendors and payees,” which will have a “grave impact” on entities that provide health care, social services and transportation.

Last year, lawmakers approved a one-month budget at the end of June that prevented payless paydays and other financial hardships in July. When the budget impasse lasted into August, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sued to ensure workers were paid on time.

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the union is prepared to go to court again this year, if necessary.

Area lawmakers are divided on what they think Blagojevich will do. Hannig doesn’t think the budget deficit is as great as $2 billion and that Blagojevich has ulterior motives in threatening large-scale cuts.

“He’s still trying to get the legislature back to do a capital bill,” Hannig said.

“If you can predict what he’s going to do, good luck,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. “I’d prefer he do some reductions and we can clear it all up in the veto session. If he would do the reductions, we could go on.”

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or


Area Republican lawmakers aren’t happy with the way the state budget was hammered out this year, but they also see little they can do about it as long as Democrats control the House, Senate and governor’s office.

“We’re limited in what we can do,” said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield. “The only thing we can do is vote on a budget, up or down, before the end of May. We can encourage that to occur every year, but it’s up to the governor to agree to a budget.”

“The first thing you’ve got to do is include us in the (negotiating) process,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. “Republicans were totally left out of it.”

Changing that would mean convincing Democrats that Republicans should be included in negotiations.

“You can yell, scream, kick and vote no,” said Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg. “Right now, we are at a disadvantage.

“Hopefully, people are starting to get fed up with it and will make changes. There’s only so much you can do when you are in the minority in the House and Seante and don’t have the governorship.”

Not surprisingly, one of the budget’s architects, Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, said he thinks the process worked OK this year.

“I think we’re better in the sense that at least we have a spending plan on the governor’s desk on July 1,” Hannig said. “It’s better to take action on July 1 than Aug. 10,” a reference to when the General Assembly finally approved a budget last year.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or


Although the 2008 budget year ended Monday, the state hasn’t closed the books on it yet.

For the next two months, Illinois will continue paying bills that were rung up before July 1, when the old state budget was still in effect. In many cases, services or products are supplied to the state, but it can take weeks for the bills to be submitted for payment.

The state allows payment for those services and products in July and August, a period known in state jargon as the “lapse period.” A year ago, the state spent more than $776 million on lapse period spending. That spending does not hinge on a new state budget being in place.