64 service agencies sue Rauner for $100M past due

More than five dozen social service agencies sued Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday for $100 million in overdue payments, perhaps an inevitable byproduct of the historic 10-month budget stalemate.

It's the latest in an increasingly complex web of legal, political and public-relations maneuvers to short-circuit the state Capitol deadlock over a budget plan that should have taken effect July 1. Rauner wants to make the state's business climate friendlier while Democrats who control the Legislature oppose his plans as anti-union and insist on dealing with a multibillion-dollar deficit.

The Pay Now Illinois coalition, made up of 64 mostly religious- or ideologically based community agencies, filed the complaint against Rauner and his administration in Cook County Circuit Court, saying economics ultimately trumps dogma.

"We can't keep functioning in this way despite our commitment to our mission," coalition chairwoman Andrea Durbin said. The group — which comprises agencies that offer health care, youth and elderly counseling, prenatal and parenting services, programs to combat sexual assault and homelessness and more — alleges the state hasn't paid them in 300 days and owes $100 million.

Six key cabinet directors, including the head of the Department of Central Management Services, Illinois' purchasing agency, are also named as defendants. Because of their "course of conduct," the lawsuit claims, "the entire infrastructure of state-supported social services is at the risk of collapse."

The service providers blame Rauner's total veto last summer of legislation that would have covered the cost of their work; Rauner said it was part of an out-of-balance spending plan sent him by legislative 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.

Even in a state that has recorded unpaid-bill backlogs as high as $10 billion in the past decade, a multiple-party lawsuit against the state is unusual.

But Stephen Schnorf, who was director of Central Management Services under former Gov. Jim Edgar and later budget director for Edgar and former Gov. George Ryan, said that even had the service agencies foreseen the predicament they're in today, the work-now-pay-later arrangement would have proceeded.

"Who could have thought, back last August, that we wouldn't have a budget by May?" said Schnorf, whom Rauner tabbed to serve on two commissions, but who was speaking for himself. "I've got to believe, the way the agencies are mission-driven, that had they known, they would have still signed the contracts, and I think the state agencies offered the contracts in good faith."

Many of the agencies that are part of the lawsuit, representing all parts of the state, have laid off skilled employees or cut services.

The lawsuit, which also targets the directors of the Department on Aging and the departments of Human Services, Public Health, Healthcare and Family Services and Corrections, claims Rauner created an "unconstitutional impairment" of the contracts in his June 25, 2015, veto because the administration subsequently insisted on enforcing contract terms despite having no money to pay.

The complaint also alleges the veto ruled out the normal remedy for such situations. Unpaid state bills go to the Court of Claims, which awards payment based on contracts backed by spending authorized by the governor.

The complaint demands immediate payment. No hearing has been scheduled.


Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/john-oconnor .