State not paying out on auto accident claims

State of affairs embarrassing, lawmakers say

By Mark Fitton & Greg Bishop 
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Been in an accident with a state-owned vehicle and not at fault? Waiting for the state to pony up?

Keep waiting.

The state, which is self-insured, has about 200 claims worth about $560,000 on hold, said Meredith Krantz, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services.

Those claims, filed since July 1, aren’t being paid because there’s no state budget.

One Springfield lawyer said he found the situation “pathetic.”

“The way I take this: If a state employee runs into your car and damages a fender or a bumper or whatever, the state isn’t paying that now,” said attorney Jim Ackerman, whose work includes auto liability cases.

“And if they run over your mother and kill her, the state isn’t going to pay that for quite some time,” he said.

With no appropriation passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, CMS does not have the authority to make payments.

Krantz said the numbers reflect all expenses, including reimbursement for medical costs and for claim-related services. However, she added, there also are claims still being investigated or negotiated.

CMS handles vehicle liability for all of the state’s departments, boards, commissions, universities and agencies. In all, Illinois owns about 12,500 vehicles, roughly 9,500 of which are passenger cars, Krantz said.

By not funding its self-insurance pool, Ackerman said, the state is, in a way, holding itself to a much lighter standard than it does its citizen drivers, who are required to have liability insurance.

“You can blame whatever politician you prefer, but it’s really a pathetic situation,” Ackerman said.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, didn’t disagree.

“This is a continuation of how inept Illinois government really is,” Franks said. “Now, we’re not paying accident victims even though we owe them.”

Franks criticized Gov. Bruce Rauner, arguing Rauner was over-aggressive in use of his veto pen last spring when he vetoed nearly all appropriations, with the biggest exception being the state’s primary and secondary education spending plan.

The governor, Franks said, should have let stand some of those appropriations, including this liability fund and appropriations to handle health insurance payouts for those state employees covered under the state’s self-funded program.

“Someone needs to ask the governor why he vetoed this,” Franks said.

Catherine Kelly, Rauner’s press secretary, said, “Rep. Franks is all over the map when it comes to spending. He voted against the bill he now criticizes the governor for vetoing.”

But Franks also said leadership from both parties own the blame for Illinois failing to meet its obligations.

“Understand that the people of the state of Illinois are suffering because we have people on each side of the aisle that care more about politics than them, and (those politicians) still suffer from the delusion that it’s OK for real people to suffer as long as the other side gets blamed,” Franks said.

“If we were a company, the government would seize us and shut us down,” he said. “That’s how bad we are.”

Said Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, “This is just another in an almost never-ending, nonstop series of disappointments.”

Every day the General Assembly isn’t in session looking for a solution to the budget impasse “is compounding a mistake,” Sandack said.

“We ought to be in the session, and we ought to be working on a budget and actually putting votes on the board whether (the proposals) come from the governor or the speaker of the House or the Senate president,” Sandack said.

“The fact that we are not doing that is just a miscarriage of justice and a dereliction of our duties,” he continued. “And it’s shameful.”

Despite more than two-thirds of fiscal 2016 having passed, the first-term Republican governor and the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate have been unable to reach a budget deal.

Even without an overall budget, the state still is making payments on roughly 90 percent of the bills it covered in the previous year because it is paying for costs mandated in continuing appropriations, by court decrees, in the primary education budget and for its debt service.

As of Thursday, the state’s unpaid bills totaled $7.58 billion.

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