News Local/State

State Fairs Still On Despite Lack Of Budget


The state fair in Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fair are scheduled to begin in August. But if there is no state budget in place, it's unclear how entertainment and vendors would be paid.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed funding for the fairs back in June—along with most of the budget bills Democrats sent to his desk. So what does that mean for the fairs?

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan says Rauner lost his legal authority to spend money on the fairs when he voted on the budget. “That would be my judgment that there’s no spending authority. But I am going to be there anyhow, because I enjoy going to the state fair.”

Sen. John Sullivan, a Democrat from Rushville, says there are several reasons to hold the events, including state law. “Illinois law, by the statutes that are in place, it says that there shall be a state fair and the Du Quoin fair for that matter. So, from what I can gather in talking to the folks out at the fairgrounds and the [Department of Agriculture], the intent and the plan is to go ahead with the state fair.”

Sullivan says entertainment acts have already received some payment from last year’s budget. If the fair were canceled, the state would lose some or all of that money. He points out the economic activity from the fairs brings in tax dollars at a time when the state budget and many local budgets are struggling.  “There would be a definite negative impact on the state of Illinois for canceling acts and canceling the fair—number one. Number two, the economic impact that the fair has for the region is actually going to bring money into the state’s coffers," Sullivan says.  "So if you look at it from the local economy standpoint, the regional economy there in the Springfield area, it certainly has a very positive impact. So again, that actually helps some of our problems instead of doing a detriment to us.”

Retired University of Illinois political science professor Kent Redfield says that no matter what’s in state law about the fairs, without a budget Illinois can’t spend on them.  That means no operating funds for costs like temporary workers, gas and water. But he notes Rauner has already found a way, through the courts, to keep paying state employees without funding. “If you don’t have a budget, then you ought to be out of business. But obviously there are certain areas where the governor’s office has decided to put extraordinary effort into trying to keep certain things going, and one of them appears to be the state fair.”

Redfield says some in the state might question why the fairs are moving ahead while other state services are on hold.  “Lot’s of people depend on the state fair. It has a huge economic impact. There’s every reason in the world to try and make it go. But if I’m a social service provider who’s laying off people or going out of business, I’m probably questioning the state’s priorities in terms of what really is or isn’t the primary function of state government.”

Rep. Raymond Poe, a Republican from Springfield, says if the state backs out of the fair now, after contracts have been signed, it would hurt its reputation. “It seems like that everything is a go. You don’t want to stop it, then start it, and then stop it. If you do, then you’re going to lose your credibility, and then it will be hard to build back up.”

Redfield says if there is any uncertainty about vendors and acts getting paid, it could cost Illinois in the long run. “If I were contracting with the state fair to come and perform, given Illinois' budget history, I might want a lot of money up front. And it just might be a lot more difficult to get acts to commit or a lot more expensive.”

Rauner's office and the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which oversees the fair, turned down requests for interviews. But the governor’s office did say that vendors may not get paid on time.