City Beat: Mayor ponders lawsuit over state budget

Morrissey open to a stopgap budget, but willing to pursue legal recourse alongside Municipal League

By Shane Nicholson 
Managing Editor

CITY HALL – Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said Thursday that he is considering joining a group of civic leaders across Illinois in pursuing legal action to force the passage of a state budget.

Morrissey, speaking from his office at City Hall, said that while he would be happy to see a stopgap measure passed to ensure schools open and other liabilities are met, he believes that the state’s constitution requires a budget to be passed in a timely manner.

“Why have a balanced budget amendment if it doesn’t mean anything?” asked Morrissey. “It makes sense that a case on those grounds would force our legislative leaders to pass a budget.”

The mayor said that a legal challenge backed by the Illinois Municipal League (IML), a group that lobbies state government on behalf of the individual cities and town, would be an ideal solution as opposed to a string of lawsuits brought by smaller groups.

“If we get into a new fiscal year (July 1) with no budget,” said Morrissey, “then for the sake of the City of Rockford and other cities and town around the state – and organizations, schools and hospitals that rely on state funds – instead of these piecemeal attacks like we’ve seen for the past year, it would make more sense to have one lawsuit. Sadly, we have to start considering that.”

Morrissey assured citizens that the city still has enough resources to guarantee that critical services can continue uninterrupted for the foreseeable future.

“Right now, we could last several months with the cash we have on hand,” the mayor commented. “But the schools wouldn’t open in the fall and then you’d have a cascading effect throughout not only Rockford but cities all across the state.”

The mayor said that while the city has worked for the past year to find ways to keep services online during the budget impasse, time is running out on leaders downstate to provide a budget that allows business to continue across Illinois.

“We never thought we’d get to this place,” he said. “We never thought, looking at this last July and August and into the winter, that we’d still be here in 2016 asking Springfield to come up with a plan.”

Morrissey said efforts to find a stopgap budget that would allow schools to open and services to continue past the November election would be enough for him to stand down the idea of a collective suit against the state at this time.

“For the sake of the state and the sake of Rockford, that would work for now,” he said. “That’d get us through the election, get us through the politicking and let us revisit this situation in a more favorable manner.”

The mayor added that any prospective lawsuit would not come solely on behalf of himself or the city, but he warned that more inaction from the state legislature and the governor would ramp up the chance for legal action against the state.

“Look, it’s pretty simple,” Morrissey said. “We have a constitution. That constitution requires that we have a budget, that the budget is passed, and that the budget is balanced. If our leaders can’t fulfill that duty then someone goes to court and a judge makes them fulfill that duty.”

The state has been operating without a budget since July 1, 2015 and has outstanding balances of more than $7.5 billion.

We’ll have more from Mayor Morrissey plus coverage of the local impact of the nearly year-long budget impasse in next week’s issue.

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