Monday, June 18, 2007

Do you want to get paid?

About 4,900 state employees would start missing paychecks July 9 if the top lawmakers can’t agree on a state budget before the new fiscal year starts July 1. That’s the first symptom of a government “shutdown” outlined in this report released Monday by Comptroller Dan Hynes’ office.

“A fiscal meltdown would begin on July 9, and a full-blown crisis would ensue, by any standard, toward the middle of July,” wrote Rick Cornell, assistant comptroller for fiscal policy, in the memo.

Employees of the constitutional offices would be the first to get delayed paychecks. Agency workers who get paid later in the month, such as Department of Corrections and Human Services staffers, would start missing paydays without a budget in place July 25. (State university payrolls would be on a case-by-case basis.) But all employees eventually would get their checks. “If you work, you get paid,” said Carol Knowles, spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office. “It’s not a question of there not being money.” It’s a matter of the comptroller’s office having the authority to collect information from all the state agencies and to write the checks.

In addition, the state wouldn’t have the spending authority to pay doctors and nursing homes waiting for Medicaid reimbursements. That includes the medical providers who signed up for Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s All Kids health insurance program, which guaranteed payment within 30 days.

Some payments are court-ordered, including money for food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and aid for the elderly, blind and disabled. State retirement benefits, state income tax refunds and state debt also would have to be paid regardless of a shutdown.

Knowles said the spending authority, even if it's in the form of a month-long temporary budget, could be approved as late as July 9 for the first round of FY08 checks to be sent out by July 13. “To absolutely avoid any delays,” however, she said, “it would be helpful to have it in place by June 29th.”

The House is scheduled to be in session the last full week of June, but for better or worse, the chamber cancelled Tuesday’s session. A spokeswoman for the Senate Democrats said that chamber will be in session Tuesday, and Senate President Emil Jones plans to attend a leaders’ meeting in the afternoon.

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