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Local

Sauk Valley agencies among group suing governor for past-due payments

Three social service agencies in the Sauk Valley are among a coalition of more than five dozen suing Gov. Bruce Rauner and six other state officers for $100 million in overdue payments, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

Sinnissippi Centers and the Whiteside and Carroll County health departments are a part of a lawsuit filed by advocacy group Pay Now Illinois.

Sinnissippi is owed about $900,000 of $1.2 million in contracts for services rendered since the state failed to pass a budget on July 1. That’s between 10 percent and 12 percent of the behavioral health center’s yearly budget.

“We lost grants totalling $600,000 going into this year,” CEO Patrick Phelan said. “Those caused cuts in services, [but] the [contracts] involved in this suit have not been paid.”

It becomes a cash flow issue, and if nonpayment continues, a decision would need to be made in the next 6 to 9 months to figure out what more can be done, Phelan said. But core services, such as crisis intervention and residential programs support, already have been affected.

“How do you turn those folks out on the street?” Phelan asked.

Whiteside is owed $180,000, but its budget primarily comes from federal money, Administrator Beth Fiorini said.

At 17 pages, the complaint is really two parts: It requests that contract vouchers be released to the Illinois comptroller for payment, and it asks for a declaration that Gov. Rauner’s June 25 appropriations veto be ruled unconstitutional, meaning relief should address the government’s breach of contract.

The suit is not meant to be punitive, Phelan said.

The lawsuit says the governor “had the option to exercise a line-item veto to block only expenditures unrelated to the services that are the subject of contracts entered with plaintiffs,” but chose not to do so.

On Feb. 18, 2015, Rauner submitted a proposed 2016 budget that would have started July 1. That budget would have covered most, if not all, of the services in the human services contracts.

In May 2015, the Democratic-led Legislature approved 27 bills. House Bills 4153 and 4165, and Senate Bill 2037, which are at the center of the suit, had passed both houses.

“No further action by the governor – or signature or consent – was necessary for the amounts appropriated by the General Assembly to become law,” the complaint reads. “Nonetheless, ... the governor vetoed all of the relevant appropriation bills.”

After the veto, the state entered contracts and continued to enforce them, despite blocking payment to providers, it says.

Rauner said he vetoed the bills because they were part of an out-of-balance spending plan sent him by the Democrats.

“While we understand that frustration is driving many worthwhile organizations to seek solutions anywhere, including the courts, the only solution is for the General Assembly to pass a balanced, reform-oriented budget as soon as possible,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in an email Wednesday.

In addition to Rauner, other defendants are John Baldwin, acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections; Jean Bohnhoff, director of the Illinois Department of Aging; James Dimas, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services; Michael Hoffman, acting director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services; Felicia Norwood, director of the Department of Health and Family Services; and Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Go to http://shawurl.com/2kqi to read the 17-page complaint.

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