Legislature's failure hitting home already

Sunday, May 16, 2010

All the while the state Legislature refuses to put Illinois on a sane budgetary path, state services are breaking down.
Most recently comes the news that the North Suburban Library System will shrink into a shell of its former self, shutting down most of its services on May 30 and laying off most of its staff, including executive director Sarah Long.

The system is one of 10 library cooperatives that for 45 years have linked public, school, university and corporate libraries across the state, making it possible for people to borrow almost any book from any library. The other cooperatives are on different budgeting schedules, but soon will be in the same fix.

The cooperatives have long been one of the advantages of living in a state such as Illinois -- like having access to the world's largest library. And the co-ops have done it without a budget increase for 20 years.

But now they are among the many services quietly crumbling because Illinois simply has stopped paying many of its bills. No agency or service provider knows when, if ever, it will get the money the Legislature has appropriated.

Almost anywhere you look, services and programs that have taken decades to build up are being cut back or even washed away in a tsunami of unpaid state bills.

• Two vendors have suspended supplying portable ventilators that allow newborns to go home from Children's Memorial Hospital -- and at least one of those vendors has done the same at LaRabida Children's Hospital -- because the state is more than $1 million in arrears.

• Voices of Vision Talking Book Center, which supplies audio books in the 12-county region for the visually impaired, has received only 3 percent of its state funding and is slated to shut down July 1.

• One vendor refused to sell more bullets and another vendor declined to supply more eyeglass lenses to the Department of Corrections unless they were paid in advance because the state owes them too much money. The department, which isn't permitted by procurement guidelines to pay in advance, is seeking new vendors.

• In an interview last month with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, interim University of Illinois President Stanley Ikenberry raised the possibility that at least one of the state's public universities -- none of which has received its full funding from the state -- might be forced to shut down in the coming academic year.

• Eviction notices have showed up at legislators' district offices because the state wasn't paying rent. One legislator used campaign money to restore his office's telephone service after it was cut off.

• On Thursday, the Shawnee Development Council, which helped senior citizens in southern Illinois with buying groceries and other chores, shut down because it hadn't been paid $380,000 by the state. Other social service agencies are in similar straits.

The Legislature is due to come back in late May to finalize the budget, but no one expects anything more than a temporary plan that will sweep all these problems under the rug until after the fall elections.

That means we can expect another six months of services and programs quietly disappearing.

Instead of Springfield setting priorities, cuts will continue to be made by chance, without planning or debate.

Long told the Sun-Times she was excited to move to Illinois from Georgia to take the job as the North Suburban Library System executive director because Illinois was a progressive state where lots of good things happen.

"Now," she said, "my Georgia relatives are laughing at me."

We don't have to wait to see how much damage Illinois' broken budgeting will do.

It's happening now.

And it's no laughing matter.