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Brown: It’s time to take sides in state budget mess

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With her home care business for seniors owed more than $1 million by the State of Illinois and its line of credit maxed out, owner Marsha Holmes made a tough decision.

She called her employees together at Family Home Service Inc. and told them she would need to cut their wages in half for this Friday’s payroll if she wanted to continue to operate.

They agreed, at least for now, with the understanding that Holmes would make up the full amount as soon as the state approves a budget and pays her what it owes.

Nobody in the business of helping elderly people stay in their homes — and out of nursing homes — wants to be responsible for cutting off those services.

Then Holmes and her workers scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to bring attention to their plight.

OPINION

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As it would happen, a check from the state for $62,000 arrived at the last minute, enough to allow Holmes to avert the pay cuts this week.

But Holmes said she has no idea what she will do when the next payroll comes due Feb. 19.

It’s no way to run a business and no way to run a state.

You can blame Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Illinois Legislature for that, although I recommend not blaming them equally.

Neutrality gets us nowhere. Time to pick up sides and hold somebody accountable for this ridiculous situation.

I blame Rauner for making public employee union destruction his overriding governing principle. Many of you tell me you blame House Speaker Mike Madigan for leading the state into its current financial mess.

Either way, the best way to end this is to deal a blow to the other guy in the voting booth, although the options admittedly are limited in the March 15 primary. Just talking about it is getting us nowhere.

Rauner, of course, isn’t on the ballot this year, Madigan is, but there’s not much likelihood of voters in his Southwest Side district throwing him overboard.

An option is available to voters in the 5th House District, where Rep. Ken Dunkin is facing Democratic primary challenger Juliana Stratton.

Dunkin, Rauner’s best new bud since he bucked Madigan, just took a $500,000 campaign donation from a conservative Republican organization to help him fend off Stratton, who is backed by Madigan and the unions. Another Rauner front group is also pouring money into the race on Dunkin’s behalf.

On Tuesday, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger called attention anew to the budget impasse, warning it’s on pace to put the state even deeper in debt than she had projected.

Munger, a Republican appointed by Rauner, is on the governor’s side, although she tries to be neutral to avoid taking the blame for all those unpaid bills, which in truth, are not her fault.

As a business owner, Holmes also is loath to blame one over the other.

“They both need to work together. It takes both sides,” she said.

That’s true. But if we keep saying both sides are to blame, then I’m not sure either one will ever take responsibility for finding a solution.

I was impressed by the responsibility shown by Family Home Service workers willing to take a temporary pay cut to keep serving their clients.

These workers are earning $10 to $11 an hour on average and cutting their pay in half would put them below the minimum wage. Obviously, that’s not a sacrifice they could sustain for long.

Holmes said she has 250 employees taking care of 500 elderly and disabled Chicago residents.

The state’s $1 million arrearage dates back to last July, when the Rauner administration asked social service providers to continue doing their work while warning there would be no compensation until a budget was approved. Nobody expected the standoff to last this long.

Family Home Services continues to receive partial payments because the services it provides are eligible under Medicaid, but even those are slow to arrive. This week’s $62,000 check was for work performed in October.

All across the state, agencies like this are teetering on the brink because of money they are owed for services already performed.

When one of them has the courage to speak out and show what’s happening, the rest of us need to listen.

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