WRITTEN BY NATASHA KORECKI | Chicago Sun-Times | 08/31/2015

Lawyers called the state’s accounting of its payments “incomplete and inaccurate” and further argued that the state tapped its cash flow to pay bills that weren’t due on a certain date or not required by a court order.

“Payments the State claims ‘compete’ with the payments ordered by this Court — were not pursuant to court orders, and over 85% of these so-called competing payments were not pursuant to a federal court order,” attorneys with Equip for Equality wrote.

The latest development comes as U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman threatened to hold the state of Illinois in contempt for failing to comply with her order to pay for services for the severely developmentally disabled.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys also question the state’s assertion that it didn’t have the available cash to comply with Coleman’s order to make a first round of back payments — about $120 million — owed for clients’ services by Aug. 21.

“The State’s own documents make it appear that on Friday, August 21, the State had $120 million of unused available resources to make the mandated payments to comply with this Court’s Order and simply failed to do so. If the State has an explanation for this apparent inconsistency, it should provide it to this Court,” the plaintiff’s attorneys said in the filing.

Attorneys for the disabled adults asked the judge to order the state to regularly disclose how and when it’s making its payments. They say that some facilities had not been paid for services from the last fiscal year.

“Since the information provided by the State appears to be incomplete and inaccurate, we request this Court to order a mechanism to ensure that complete and accurate information about payments by the State is provided to this Court, the Court Monitor, and Counsel for Plaintiffs and Intervenors so that they can evaluate compliance with the Consent Decree and this Court’s Orders,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.

The filing comes after Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger’s office, which is charged with paying the state’s bills, detailed to Coleman last week which checks the state wrote and to whom during the time her office was to make court-ordered disability payments.

The two sides are expected in court again Tuesday, when Coleman will decide whether the state deserves to be held in contempt of court.

Last week, Munger’s office told the Chicago Sun-Times it couldn’t comply with the court order because of a “severe cash shortage.” The next day, the state made a $71 million payment. A spokesman said the office made the payment as soon as cash was available.

The state last week gave a lengthy accounting of which bills it paid, saying most of the demands stem from other court orders or fiscal mandates. “Payments in this case do not exist in a vacuum. The compete against the state’s other obligations, many of which are also covered by court orders,” Munger’s filing stated. 

Munger released a statement last week saying she has worked to prioritize payments to nonprofits and services affecting the elderly, disabled and children.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs, who suffer from disabilities so severe many cannot use the toilet, clothe or feed themselves without assistance, say the state was wrong to make payments to schools, payroll and other vendors before complying with the court’s order. Even if Munger is compelled to make some payments by state court order, attorneys argued that the federal order takes precedence.

Coleman’s order is just one example of how Illinois is paying its bills — by court mandate — since Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner were unable to reach a budget agreement.

Rauner vetoed a Democrat-authored financial plan in June, saying it was out of balance by about $4 billion. The new fiscal year came and went on July 1 without a new plan in place. Both sides say they’re willing to negotiate, but they remain deadlocked. Rauner wants a series of changes to benefit businesses and weaken unions in Illinois. Democrats oppose the proposals and say they shouldn’t be attached to a budget.

A recent analysis by Senate Democrats indicates that because of various contracts, decrees and court orders compelling spending, the state had already committed 90 percent of its revenues and was on pace to be $5 billion in the hole.