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Cook County sues state over held-up funds

Friday, March 04, 2016
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Illinois' budget war today broke out on a new front: in federal court. After months of complaining, Cook County and four county officeholders filed an action in U.S. District Court alleging that the state has failed to provide money promised to operate the county's child-support enforcement program. The suit asks that the state be required to provide the money, even though the funds are in the portion of the budget that has not passed and is not covered by other consent decrees. Cook County has been funding the program on its own, out of its its operating budget. But, said State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in a statement, "The unanticipated financial burden on the county has reached a critical juncture, and budget cuts are not imminent."Alvarez was joined in the suit by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and Chief Judge Timothy Evans, all of whose offices work on child support. "Vulnerable children in Cook County continue to be collateral damage in this ongoing budget stalemate," said Alvarez, who faces a tough renomination contest in the March 15 Democratic primary. "We can no longer stand by while this crisis pays out without intervening on behalf of our families who depend on this funding for basic needs like food, shelter and clothing." Overall, the state is behind at least $66 million in various promised payments to the county, President Toni Preckwinkle told Crain's editorial board last month, with another $99 million in jeopardy. The budget war pits Gov. Bruce Rauner against the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. Rauner has refused to approve tax hikes that most insiders believe are needed to balance the budget unless Democrats agree to pro-business, union-weakening changes that he says are needed to revive the state's economy and Speaker Michael Madigan-led Democrats say are unfair.

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