Ever heard of VSI? It’s the Vendor Services Initiative, and it was deigned to help pay the hundreds of vendors who’ve never been paid by the State over the past few years of layered fiscal crises. Trouble is, the way it’s structured is something akin to a payday loan, and the resulting payments are what Dave Mckinney of Reuters has described as a fiscal “time bomb.” Dave and WBEZ’s Tony Arnold, both reporters with extensive experience in Springfield, are our guests this week.
Of course, we have no budget, and no real prospects for getting one any time soon. That may not be terrible news if you or your organization has the juice to go to court and get a judge to pay you, but two major sectors of State life don’t have such protection.
“There is a lobbying presence for the homeless in Springfield,” McKinney points out, “and they do what they can, but they don’t stack up against Exelon or the powers that be like that. They don’t have an effective presence like that, and so in terms of advocating, groups like that are under the gun, the sexual assault groups, the homeless groups, on and on and on. I think we will see those continue to kind of peel off, especially if we go into another two-year cycle here where we don’t have predictable income coming in.”
Another disaster-in-waiting is higher education. Their stopgap funding for 2016 expires December 31, and nobody knows what happens next. Students on need-based scholarships, MAP recipients – all could be high and dry come January 1.
McKinney says three state institutions are in the most serious condition right now -Eastern Illinois University, Chicago State University and Northeastern Illinois University.
“Those three places are so dependent on state revenues. And you know you’ve already seen it like in the enrollment numbers for these places, where they are at the lowest level they’ve ever been and no end in sight. And so I think you’re just going to see a continuing drain of students who you know if you’re a parent with a college age kid do you want him going to a state school right now.”
Arnold tells us that the picture is a little different for the social-service agencies that aren’t getting paid. They’ve been to court, too, but just haven’t had success in getting a judge to order them paid.
“Everybody else convinced the judge that legally the state needs to fund foster care, or pay the employees their salaries,” he explains. “Somewhere along the lines there wasn’t a lawsuit over universities getting paid, but there is one over social services. It’s in appellate court. These are organizations that have contracts with the State of Illinois. They performed the contracts and did the work, but there’s this clause in the contract that says well if they don’t pass a budget then you don’t have to get paid. And a judge in Cook County said yeah, the State doesn’t have to pay you. It’s being appealed. It’s going to go to the State Supreme Court eventually. That’s where there might be a way for social services to get money, because again, it’s a court order, not because of a deal between Rauner and Democrats.”
We all lament that the 2018 campaign for Governor is already in full swing, with at least eight potential Democratic candidates in the mix. Bruce Rauner, they say, is anxious to show that he’s made at least a little progress on his “reform agenda”, so he’s holding up the budget until he can get term limits and a property tax freeze.
The Democrats won’t budge on either, so we’re back to square one. And another year begins in Illinois.
It’s a fascinating conversation about how not to run a big, midwestern industrial/agricultural state.
As we like to say, our show’s pretty good radio too, so you can listen to it in your earbuds or thought the Bluetooth in your car right HERE.
And you can read a full transcript of this show HERE: cn-transcript-dec-15-2016