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Ill. budget gridlock frustrates residents
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- At first, people rolled their eyes and cracked jokes about Illinois officials failing, and failing some more, to approve a new state budget.
Then August arrived.
A temporary budget expired. Talk of a government shutdown ran wild. As temperatures rose, so did anxiety over the impact of the bitter deadlock.
Will state employees get paid? What will happen to funding for public schools? Are people without health insurance going to get any assistance?
The longer the impasse drags on, the more is at stake for ordinary people.
The state employee
Ellen Reeder usually scans the ads, clips coupons and spends $40 a week on groceries. Last week, she cut back to $28, trying to save wherever she can in case her paycheck is late.
Reeder is a caseworker for the All Kids health insurance program. Gov. Rod Blagojevich's insistence on developing a universal health-care program helped cause the record overtime session.
That produces mixed feelings for Reeder, who has to turn down uninsured applicants for All Kids because they have no children. Even if her wages were cut off, Reeder would keep punching in.
"My job makes a difference," she said. "There are a lot of dedicated people there who know that because of the job they do every day, some kid with an earache is going to get an antibiotic and it won't hurt anymore."
Don Smith Paint Co. doesn't count the state of Illinois among its bigger customers, having sold the government about $100,000 worth of paint, sprayers, wallpaper and blinds during the past five years, according to state records.
"People are worried: Are we going to get a paycheck next week or not? The minute they have that in the back of their head, they draw the reins in on buying anything," said Richard Scott, who's owned the 58-year-old Springfield business for about 15 years.
Scott does less business with the state since it started writing "master" contracts -- hiring one company to supply commodities anywhere in the state. But many of his customers are contractors buying paint for state projects.
"If somebody doesn't get their paycheck, they can't come to me and buy something," Scott said. "It's just a trickle down effect. Restaurants will feel it; everybody will feel it."
Thirteen years ago, when Tamara Douglass started teaching, she was allotted $20 in the spring to buy supplies for the following fall. That's down to $12 now, and Douglass buys some supplies on her own.
"I try to look for ways around things that cost," said Douglass, 36, a social studies teacher at Springfield Southeast High School.
Like many teachers, she's frustrated by the government's inability to resolve decades of debate over school funding.
"I'm so disgusted about the lip service that everyone pays education," Douglass said. "I'm disgusted with all of them, I don't care what party they represent. I just want them to do the jobs they're elected to do."