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Special ed, nonprofits ‘get first crack’ at state money: Topinka

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinktalks about budgets staff Laremont School Gages Lake. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka talks about budgets to staff at Laremont School in Gages Lake. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Illinois’ fiscal picture “is such a mess in Springfield it just makes me sick,” state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka told board members and educators from the Special Education District of Lake County after a tour of Laremont School in Gages Lake.

But “we will get through this — for the sake of our state and the residents that you serve, we have to get through this,” Topinka said, assuring that organizations that need funds to assist the disabled will go to the front of the line in her office.

“I know you’ve got to be struggling to make ends meet, because this has got to be not only labor-intensive, but money-intensive operation, and you’re going to hold on to your funding sources wherever you can get them while you cope with the state’s late payments,” Topinka said. “When money does come in, [by] law, we have to take care of our bondholders first and our payroll, boom-boom. But after that, it’s totally subjective how I want to line up the payments.

“So we have tried to put organizations like yours and the nonprofits that take care of developmentally disabled people at the top, so you will get first crack,” Topinkasaid.

Topinka said the district would receive two payments in the next three weeks for vouchers submitted in early September — $258,091 for the transportation fund and $1.9 million for the general fund. She said Illinois is backlogged up to six months in paying out obligations, joking that it “might be the only state in the nation where we consider it good news to get payments every 90 days.”

Barbara Watson, director of business services for the district, told Topinka she noticed recent improvement in payouts from the state, saying the district was running two payments short for about two years but is up to date for fiscal 2012.

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