A downstate transit agency is suing the state for unpaid funds in a case that could have big implications for public transit agencies throughout Illinois.
The River Valley Metro Mass Transit District manages a fleet of buses around Kankakee, including a route from Bourbonnais to Midway Airport in Chicago. Rob Hoffman, managing director of River Valley Metro, said bus service around Kankakee has been suspended on Sundays and holidays to save money during the budget impasse.
River Valley Metro’s is now the latest in a string of lawsuits filed against the state asking the judicial branch to mandate payments even though no full budget has been approved by the legislature and governor.
The agency asked a Kankakee County judge to order the state release more than $159 million that had been earmarked for downstate mass transit organizations.
A spokeswoman for the state comptroller’s office said as of March 31 it has $79.1 million worth of payment vouchers for River Valley Metro and other downstate mass transit agencies.
When River Valley Metro filed its lawsuit in late February, the state owed it $1.27 million. Records from the comptroller’s office show River Valley Metro was paid that money on March 23.
But another payment request was filed on March 16, and River Valley Metro is still waiting on $829,278 from the state, according to the comptroller’s office.
Hoffman said the state is mandated to transfer money to the Illinois treasurer to disburse to downstate mass transit agencies.
“That’s really our only route that we have,” Hoffman said. “It’s not money that can be repurposed and used for wherever else the state feels to use it for.”
Hoffman added that the agency’s bus fleet is also in need of an upgrade.
“I regularly refer to our equipment as the bus museum. They’re old. They’re outdated. They’re all past the point that they should be replaced but the folks keep ‘em going and we’re pulling it off every day,” Hoffman said.
The state’s late payments have put increased pressure on organizations that are owed money. The comptroller estimates the state’s current backlog of bills has grown to $12.6 billion.
Judicial orders have kept much of Illinois’ state government operating while there’s been no complete budget. But they have also put the state further into debt, slowing down payments to agencies relying on that money.
“The Comptroller and her staff are doing their best to triage the state’s unpaid bills in the face of a $12.6 billion backlog,” said Jamey Dunn, a spokeswoman for Comptroller Susana Mendoza. “The ultimate solution to this situation would be for the Governor to present a balanced budget and work with the General Assembly to get it passed, so the state can start to address its bill backlog in a timely fashion.”
Meanwhile, universities and social service agencies have received no state money for their work since Jan. 1, though more than 40 social services are also suing the state to be paid for work they were contracted with the state to complete.
Tony Arnold covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.