Illinois must disclose which bills it has paid or not paid: judge

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2015 1:41 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday gave Illinois until midday on Friday to disclose which bills the state has paid or not paid and why it could not fully comply with a court order to fund services for developmentally disabled residents in the absence of a fiscal 2016 state budget.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said she was "very disappointed" the state failed to meet an Aug. 21 payment deadline she set in her Aug. 18 order and did not communicate that failure to the court.

"You have to make contact with the court or else you are in contempt of the court order," the judge told attorneys for Illinois' comptroller and two state agency heads.

An impasse between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the House and Senate over a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1 ignited a rush to court to seek payment orders. State and federal courts have ordered state money to continue to flow for human services covered under existing consent decrees and for state payroll.

Services for more than 10,000 disabled residents were covered under a 2011 consent decree.

Attorneys for disabled residents on Tuesday asked the judge to find the state officials in civil contempt of court. But Coleman requested a detailed accounting of the state's bill payments instead.

"Human lives are at stake," the judge said, while acknowledging the existence of other court orders competing for state funds.

John Stevens, a lawyer for Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger, said after payments were made on Aug. 21 for debt service on bonds and for pensions, the state lacked money to pay all of its bills.

Benjamin Wolf, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the disabled, told reporters after the hearing that some clients were about to be thrown out in the street due to the lack of state payments.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)