Illinois budget battle: What's at stake? - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Illinois budget battle: What's at stake?

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WSIL -- As Illinois lawmakers meet in a historic special session, people who operate and depend on agencies that receive state funding are keeping a close eye on developments.

"We just want the people in Springfield, as everybody has said, to do their job," said John Smith, who runs the Egyptian Area Agency on Aging, which provides services, like Meals on Wheels, to hundreds of seniors across Southern Illinois.

Since the budget crisis began, Smith has had to make some difficult decisions, like eliminating certain meal routes in order to save money.

"We're basically going from paycheck to paycheck, if you will, to make sure that our services remain in place because people depend on us," said Smith. 

While the majority of money the agency receives comes from the federal government, Smith said his agency would not be able to operate for very long without state funding, which it has continued to receive because of court orders. 

He says if lawmakers don't pass a budget before July 1st, his agency would eventually run out of money, unless the court order is renewed, which is no guarantee.

"When it runs out, we'll announce a deadline that we'll have to close our senior centers and even our (administrative) office," said Smith. 

It's a nightmare he shares with others that depend on state funding.

Southern Illinois University, for instance, was forced to lay off nearly 80 workers, and the Women's Center in Carbondale let two of its employees go, and could furlough more on July 1st.

Schools and social agencies aren't the only one that would be hurt if lawmakers can't reach a deal.

Thousands of construction workers could lose their jobs, if road projects across Illinois came to a screeching halt, a real possibility.

Gianna Urgo, the public information officer for IDOT, said the following in a statement:

"Due to the General Assembly's refusal to pass a balanced budget, the Illinois Department of Transportation loses its ability to pay contractors starting July 1," "While we are hopeful the situation is resolved before then, the department is notifying contractors that all construction work is to shut down on June 30. Contractors will be advised to secure work zones to ensure their safety during any potential shutdown. As always, the safety of the traveling public will be the top priority as the department works through this process."

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute said if road projects suddenly shut down, it would cause a chain reaction crash in the state's economy.

It would mean the loss of $2.2 billion in state infrastructure investment and a decline of $1.7 billion in economic activity.

They estimate 23,000 people would lose jobs and public budgets would be strained, as revenue decreased and demand for taxpayer-funded unemployment insurance increased.

Whether any of that happens depends on what lawmakers do over the next ten days.

"I don't really count it as winners and losers in Springfield. I count it as winners and losers in the local communities who need and rely on the state to provide services," he said.

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