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As Budget Deadline Approaches, Illinois Faces A Government Shutdown

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And one U.S. state is about to run out of money. At midnight tonight, Illinois's budget expires. The problem in this case is a standoff between the Republican governor and the Democratically-controlled legislature, and without a spending plan, state employees may soon go without pay and social programs could shut down. Amanda Vinicky, of member station WUIS, reports.

AMANDA VINICKY, BYLINE: Illinois - well, let's just say it - doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to money management. Take it from the state's new governor - Bruce Rauner.

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BRUCE RAUNER: We've been driven into the ditch. You know what? The truth hurts, but you know what? The truth needs to be known.

VINICKY: That truth is that the state is broke. Rauner is an ultra-wealthy former private equity investor who sold the people of Illinois on his management skills, his ability to turn at the state around. So far, it's not going well. And here's why - before, when he was boss at his own firm, Rauner got to call the shots. Now, as Illinois's first Republican governor in a dozen years, he has to work with what can be described as a hostile board of directors - a legislature dominated by Democrats. They want to focus on the budget, how to fill a nearly $4 billion funding gap. Rauner isn't willing to go there, at least not yet. He's focused on fulfilling campaign promises.

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RAUNER: We need to shrink the bureaucracy and bring back the confidence of the business community if we're going to solve any of our problems. And anybody who says those reforms are not related to the budget - that's baloney.

VINICKY: The governor is pushing a controversial pro-business agenda. It includes union busting rhetoric that has critics comparing him with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker rose in national prominence by limiting public workers' bargaining rights. Rauner says only if his demands are met will he consider some of Democrats' suggestions for avoiding deep spending cuts - namely raising taxes. Democrats say that's blackmail. John Cullerton is president of the state Senate.

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JOHN CULLERTON: And we find ourselves trying to work with a governor who continues to run campaigns rather than the state that elected him. Rather than roll up your sleeves and work on solutions, he's dictating demands and threatening those who defy him.

VINICKY: Without a miracle deal, Illinois's shutdown begins Wednesday. The state will continue to function, for now anyway, but in a couple of weeks, Illinois won't have money to pay employees. Some social service agencies have already begun layoffs. Rauner's actions outraged Democratic State Senator Kim Lightford. She spoke at a rally Thursday in Chicago.

KIM LIGHTFORD: People are going to suffer...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Come on, senator.

LIGHTFORD: ...Unless we do something, and we cannot stand back and allow this to happen. He can sit up in his mansion and not be affected, but all of us will feel the pinch.

VINICKY: Initially, that pinch may be only felt by people who are truly dependent on state services. But the longer gridlock persists, the pain will widen. The question is when will Illinois politicians feel a big enough pinch it'll move them to reach a resolution? For NPR News, I'm Amanda Vinicky in Springfield, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.