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Brown: Sad state of affairs getting worse by the day

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No matter what Gov. Bruce Rauner tells the General Assembly on Wednesday, the state of the State of Illinois is bad and getting worse.

Let us review.

As of Dec. 31, state government’s backlog of unpaid bills had reached $6.6 billion — on target to hit $9 billion by June 30.

That doesn’t include another $5.3 billion in expenses the state is accruing for services for which it has contracted, but which can’t even be submitted for payment until the Legislature approves a budget.

As a result of the state’s failure to enact a budget and pay its bills, one of Illinois’ largest social service providers announced last week it is closing 30 programs and eliminating 750 jobs.

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois said the jobs cuts, which amount to 43 percent of its workforce, were necessary because the agency is owed $6 million by the state and can’t continue to borrow to meet its obligations.

The cuts will eliminate services to 4,700 people who rely on the agency for everything from senior home care to adult drug and alcohol treatment.

Potentially not far behind is Catholic Charities of Chicago, which says it is owed $16 million by the state — an amount that grows by $2 million each month.


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“As anyone can comprehend, $2 million per month is an unsustainable amount,” Catholic Charities acknowledged in a press release Monday. “With no end in sight to the budget impasse, we may soon be forced to make incredibly difficult decisions that could include closing programs.”

Most of the state’s other big social service agencies are in the same boat but have been loath to complain publicly.

None of them like getting pulled into the middle of Illinois’ poisonous politics, for which I don’t blame them.

But they also don’t like bad news out there that could harm their status with other funders or alarm their clients and employees, which I consider somewhat shortsighted.

RELATED: Social service groups bemoan lack of state budget

It’s those clients and employees who may be the key to forcing a political solution. The public in Illinois still doesn’t fully grasp that the state outsources most of its human services responsibilities to these private nonprofit providers, who are now bearing the brunt of the failure of our political leaders.

There’s a very similar dynamic happening with the state’s colleges and universities.

None of them want to draw Rauner’s ire by calling too much attention to their problems either. Neither is a pending budget disaster a great way to recruit students, top faculty or outside donors.

But with no money coming in from the state, forcing universities to rely on their reserves and tuition payments to stay afloat, some can no longer afford to stay mum.

Chicago State University recently warned that it may be forced to close its doors March 1, or make drastic cuts to its program, if the state doesn’t start paying what it owes.

The Rauner administration responded by circulating a memo about Chicago State’s history of financial mismanagement, the purpose of which was unclear to me unless the message is that the governor wouldn’t mind if the school did close. Thousands of African-American students who are relying on the school for their shot at higher education might appreciate some clarity from the governor.

Eastern Illinois University also is warning of layoffs for hundreds of employees and unpaid furloughs for others beginning in March if the state appropriation is further delayed. Western Illinois University has announced smaller cuts.

With similar concerns swirling at Northern Illinois University, President Douglas Baker felt it necessary to issue a letter this week reassuring the university community that the school will “fully operate” through the end of June.

Then there are tens of thousands of needy college students throughout the state who have been caught in the middle by Illinois’ failure to make good on promised Monetary Award Program grants to help them pay for their tuition.

On Tuesday, little Lincoln College became the latest private school to inform its students that it will be unable to cover for the state’s failure during the spring semester.

I could keep going, but for every harm I could list, there is worse coming right around the corner if nothing is done.

Wednesday’s State of the State address is an opportunity for Rauner to reboot his political approach. More likely, the governor will double down.

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