Illinois is entering its third month without a state budget, resulting in a cavalcade of court orders, consent decrees and legal rulings over which bills the state should pay.
The budget impasse between the overwhelmingly Democrat Legislature and a new Republican Governor doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. The spending choices that are being made, however, could spread the budget crisis’ political fallout.
While the state has been dragged in and out of federal court over the past three months over its failure to comply with a consent decree reimbursing care for the developmentally disabled, the Republican appointed Comptroller, Leslie Munger, has authorized more than $1 million in grants to Planned Parenthood. The state payments were “grants,” according to the Comptroller’s records, so the money doesn’t appear to be tied to any Medicaid or other federal payment mandates.
At the start of the state’s fiscal crisis in June, when spending authority expired, the Comptroller signed off on $1.5 million in grants to Planned Parenthood. This amount was five times greater than the amount awarded to the abortion provider the previous month. In late August, while the abortion provider was embroiled in a national scandal over its alleged “harvesting” of baby organs, Munger authorized another $200,000 for the group.
Since the start of 2015, the Comptroller has approved $3.6 million in grants to Planned Parenthood, far above the $700k sent to the group for “contracted payments.” The smaller “contracted payments” amount is likely tied to Medicaid or other federal requirements.
Another questionable payment during this time without a state budget is a $4k monthly “subscription” payment to a state news organization that covers legislative and political news. The Comptroller also approved $300,000 in grant payments to the Ounce of Prevention charity. The President of that charity is Diane Rauner, wife of the current Republican Governor.
The dollar amounts aren’t that extraordinary in the context of overall state spending. Even though the state doesn’t have a budget, it still has plenty of revenue coming into state coffers.
“There’s plenty of cash coming in,” Steve Brown, spokesman for the Democrat Speaker of the House Mike Madigan told the Chicago Sun-Times.
What is extraordinary, though, is that the Republican Comptroller was authorizing these payments at the same time she was pleading poverty to the federal courts over the delayed payments to providers for the developmentally disabled. Munger’s office told the court it faced a “severe cash shortage” that precluded it from making the payments.
On Monday, a federal judge in Chicago held a hearing on a motion finding the state in contempt for failing to make the payments ordered repeatedly by the Court. The Court ultimately dismissed that motion, because the state had recently made a partial payment of the amounts due. The judge, Sharon Johnson Coleman, however, said she “found it ‘disturbing’ that it took an emergency motion to get the state to comply with her original order to pay providers on a similar schedule to the last fiscal year.”
Documents provided to the Court found enough cash in the Comptroller’s account to make the necessary payments to comply with an earlier court order.
Some of that is budget semantics, no doubt. There are always a host of games to be played in any budget standoff. Libraries and parks are always immediately on the chopping block whenever a partial government shutdown or a spending cut is on the table. A certain amount of brinksmanship is to be expected.
It is far more disturbing, though, that a Republican Comptroller would green-light grants to Planned Parenthood at anytime, never mind during a budget stand-off. That the state had no budget and no clear legal authority or obligation to make the payments to Planned Parenthood ought to raise lots of political questions for the Republican Administration.
National Republican voters are contemplating shutting down the federal government over its payments to the scandal-plagued abortion provider. That Illinois Republicans would continue to find ways to fund the organization AFTER a government shutdown goes a long way to explaining the fiscal basket-case the state has become.