CHICAGO — A judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by social service providers who wanted the court to force payment on contracts with the state of Illinois, saying the issue belongs in a higher court.
After brief oral arguments, Cook County Judge Rodolfo Garcia tossed the lawsuit.
Nearly 100 social service providers, called the Pay Now Illinois coalition, sued in May over fallout from the state’s unprecedented budget stalemate. They argued the state breached its service contracts and they were owed roughly $160 million collectively for services, including health care and programs to fight homelessness.
The lawsuit named Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who’s been deadlocked on a full year budget with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, and the heads of state agencies.
Illinois Pay Now spokeswoman Andrea Durbin said they group will consider an appeal.
“From the beginning this lawsuit has been about good business practices, paying signed contracts in full and on time. The State’s failure to pay — and their belief that there is no way to make them pay — sets an extraordinarily bad precedent that should be of concern to anybody doing business with the state,” she said in a statement. “It calls into question whether any contracts in the state are valid.”
Last year, Rauner vetoed nearly all of the budget legislation Democrats sent him, saying it was out of balance. The lawsuit argues that the first-term governor created an “unconstitutional” situation by vetoing appropriations, but still enforcing contracts.
Durbin said a higher court might be better suited to take up the issue.
The judge suggested further complications ahead for the cash-strapped state.
This year lawmakers and Rauner agreed on a short-term budget, which expires in January, but uncertainty lingers over a full spending plan.
“The real problem we have is: Where would additional funding come from?” Garcia asked during arguments, WBEZ radio in Chicago reported.
The groups in the lawsuit include the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a Chicago-based early education organization that is run by Rauner’s wife, Diana Rauner.
The governor’s spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday as did the Illinois attorney general’s office, which argued the case for the state.