Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his second annual budget address Wednesday, even though the state has yet to enact a spending plan for the fiscal year that started more than seven months ago. Progress Illinois provides highlights from and reaction to the address, during which the governor gave Democrats a budget ultimatum.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his 2017 budget address Wednesday even though he and Democratic state lawmakers have yet to agree on a spending plan for the current fiscal year, which began more than seven months ago.
The long-running budget impasse centers on Rauner's pro-business, anti-union policy agenda. While Rauner suggested there is room for compromise on his "turnaround agenda" proposals, he gave Democrats -- who hold supermajorities in both chambers -- an ultimatum during his budget speech.
"Either you give the executive branch the authority to cut spending to live within our revenues," Rauner said, "Or, we agree together on economic and governmental reforms to accompany a negotiated balance of spending reductions and revenue that ensures that Illinois can be both compassionate and competitive."
"You choose," he said. "But please, choose now."
In his next breath, Rauner called on lawmakers to "come together in the spirit of compromise and bipartisanship" and "enact a bipartisan, balanced budget with a mix of reforms, cost reductions and revenue."
"To take this path, we don't have to enact every item of our turnaround agenda in their current forms, but we must pass real reforms this year," Rauner said in his nearly 30-minute speech.
Before considering new revenues, Rauner said he wants reforms such as workers' compensation changes, a property tax freeze and limits on collective bargaining. Democrats oppose the governor's anti-union proposals, calling them non-budgetary and harmful to middle-class families.
Rauner's speech apparently will not do much in the short term to break the budget stalemate, if reaction from some Democrats is any indication.
"What he said was, 'I won't raise taxes unless you give me my turnaround agenda,' which of course, there is absolutely no way to close this budget without revenue," said state Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago). "Anybody who says otherwise apparently doesn't know how to do math."
Democrats, Martwick said, are "not inclined" to approve Rauner's turnaround agenda "because it goes against everything we got elected to do."
"Last I checked, there were a lot more of us [Democrats] than there are of them. That's democracy. Sorry, you're not gonna get your turnaround agenda," Martwick told Progress Illinois. "But to suggest that the alternative to him not getting what he wants is that we should give him authoritarian control to cut spending as he sees fit without any input from the legislature -- (that has) got to be one of the most crazy things I've ever heard in my life. What about that says democracy? And the answer is nothing."
State Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) said it is understandable that the governor wants to improve the state's economic competitiveness. But such an effort "cannot be done on the backs of working men and women across our state," he said.
"No other governor in recent history has held a budget, and the people of Illinois, hostage to his demands for the passage of an extreme agenda, which has very little legislative support," Welch said in a statement. "I truly hope Governor Rauner takes President Obama's remarks from last week seriously by deciding to compromise and negotiating with Democrats in good faith to craft a responsible budget."
Many social service advocates echoed Welch's sentiment that Rauner's policy agenda should not be a condition for passing the budget.
"We call on Governor Rauner to end his political campaign to 'Shake up Springfield,'" said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois. "The only thing he has been shaking up are the lives and security of families in Illinois."
David From, Illinois state director at Americans for Prosperity, applauded Rauner's budget speech, saying the governor's "plan to reform government and grow the economy is the right path to lead our state to sustained prosperity."
He blasted Democratic leaders for resisting such reforms.
"Unfortunately the leadership in the General Assembly has continually resisted real reform and advocates for the same old path of inefficient government and out-of-balance budgets that will necessitate higher taxes on Illinois families and businesses," From said.
Rauner said taxpayer savings from his turnaround items "would increase over time and could be many billions of dollars a year."
One political observer, who said Rauner offered "really nothing new here" in terms of his position on the budget, was skeptical of the turnaround agenda's purported economic benefits.
"I think he's being extremely optimistic about the efficacy and the speed with which those reforms would have any positive effect on the economy," said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.
Bobby Otter, budget director at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA), said the state simply needs more revenue to tackle its fiscal problems.
"When the governor is saying that we'll be able to grow our way out with some of (his) turnaround agenda items, that seems pretty unlikely from our standpoint," Otter said. "And it seems pretty clear that we need more revenue in the state to be able to fund the services that people of Illinois have come to expect and want."
Despite there being no 2016 budget in place, nearly 90 percent of state government is being funded during the ongoing stalemate through laws, court orders and consent decrees. At the same time, Illinois is taking in less revenue this year due to the rollback of the 2011 temporary income tax hike. As a result, the state is on track to spend $34 billion in the current fiscal year, exceeding projected revenues by $1.9 billion, according to a new CTBA analysis.
Illinois entered the current fiscal year with an accumulated General Fund deficit of $5.9 billion, CTBA's report showed. If Illinois continues to operate without a budget, CTBA projects that the deficit will hit $7.8 billion by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
The nearly eight-month-old budget impasse has meant no funding for a range of social services and higher education institutions, creating financial chaos for service providers, colleges, universities and low-income students who depend on the Monetary Award Program (MAP) for tuition assistance.
College students from across Illinois rallied Wednesday afternoon at the state capitol building for a solution to the higher education funding crisis, which earlier this month forced Chicago State University to declare itself in a financial state of emergency.
"Governor Rauner campaigned on a promise to 'Shake Up Springfield.' Instead he has shaken up students, parents and professors because of his sophomoric political chess game with House Speaker Michael Madigan," said rally organizer Jauwan Hall, student trustee at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "People's education and livelihood are not games to be played with. We need our elected officials to do their job and pass a budget."
Gabriel Gomez, a Chicago State University professor, said students are suffering because of the state budget crisis.
CSU students "are predominantly African American and facing numerous challenges in their communities, from crime to hunger to poverty and racism," Gomez said. "Many of our students are raising families of their own, on their own, and working full-time while attending school."
"It makes me angry," Gomez added, "that the governor would allow these students - who so many have given up on - to suffer, all because he refuses to ask the very wealthy to pay a dime more. High school students and their families can't plan for the year ahead. They don't know if they'll have MAP grant tuition assistance - or even a college that's open for business."
Gomez is a member of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which noted that Rauner's 2017 budget proposal seeks to slash higher education funding by more than 25 percent.
In his budget reaction, SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Vice President James Muhammad said Rauner's budget plan would also cut funding for the Community Care Program, which connects low-income seniors to personal attendants who can help them in their homes. Here is Muhammad's statement:
Bruce Rauner's budget proposal? A. My way. B. The highway.
With social services agencies, prevention programs and universities turning away clients and students and shuttering their doors every day, today's address did nothing to meet the calamity that Bruce Rauner has created deliberately and which has vulnerable people as his chief victims.
The Rauner budget again has the wrong priorities.
As one telling example, Governor Rauner announced $198 million in cuts to the State's Community Care Program that provides vital home healthcare assistance to seniors. Rauner's irresponsible budget would cut the vital program and hurt more than 43,000 seniors in Illinois. Half of all seniors in CCP would face dramatic service cuts and sharp reductions in home care assistance.
One thing is clear today: The only kind of compromise this governor wants is the one that gives him everything he wants.
Another program on the chopping block is the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP), which has gone unfunded during the budget standoff.
Rauner's 2017 spending proposal would not restore IBCCP's funding, said Heather Eagleton, Illinois government relations director at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
"We are extremely disappointed to see Governor Rauner continue to neglect cancer patients and the health of all Illinoisans," Eagleton said in a statement. "With more than 65,000 people in our state expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, we can't afford to abandon programs that help reduce incidence and death from this disease."
Illinois' budget situtation has put other health care services at risk, including safety net hospitals.
A.J. Wilhelmi, president and CEO of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, said the organization "remain(s) deeply concerned with the lack of a state budget and the resulting long delays in payments to hospitals - jeopardizing access to health care for Illinoisans as well as the continued viability and financial stability of many hospitals, especially small and rural, critical access and safety net hospitals."
"We urge the governor and General Assembly to work together and with the hospital community on meaningful and workable solutions to strengthen health care, including the Medicaid program," Wilhelmi said.
Rauner did not discuss the budget stalemate's impact on services. He did, however, speak at length about K-12 education funding.
The governor, whose wife is president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, an organization that works to provide education and resources to children from birth through the age of five, urged lawmakers to make increased funding for early childhood and K-12 education a "top priority" for the coming year. He called for swift approval of a "standalone" education appropriations bill, set to be introduced by Republican legislative leaders.
"No matter how this session unfolds, send that education bill to my desk -- clean, no games -- and I'll sign it immediately," Rauner said.
Rauner wants to fully fund General State Aid and is seeking a $75 million increase for early childhood education, bringing the total to $393 million. He also promised to work with lawmakers to fix the state's school funding formula.
Emily Miller with Voices for Illinois Children welcomed Rauner's call for increased education funding, but questioned how he intends to pay for such an effort, since the governor "failed to propose new revenue necessary to make that vision a reality."
"Without significant new revenue, increasing education spending to record high levels means slashing public investments like job training, healthcare, public safety, homeless prevention, and countless other services that give children and families the tools they need to pull themselves out of poverty," Miller said in a statement. "Instead of choosing to pit our most vulnerable against each other, the governor and lawmakers should choose to raise the revenue we need to invest in the priorities we all share."
Voices for Illinois Children is a member of the Responsible Budget Coalition. The coalition's chair, John Bouman of the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, released the following statement after Rauner's budget speech:
In the budget address today, instead of choosing to invest in children, families communities, and our state's economy through a responsible budget, the governor chose to continue to advocate for his non-budget policy agenda and place it ahead of the budget. Hard-working families need a budget that chooses revenue over cuts to services they rely on, not a prolonged stalemate that forces state government and vital programs to languish.
While its good that the governor supports new investment in education, it means little without revenue to support it and all the critical services that support and provide opportunity for those children, their families and communities.
Children and families are more than line items on a page. Families need to have the opportunity to send their older kids to college and their younger kids to a quality pre-school. Communities need both strong after-school programs and strong K-12 schools. Children, seniors, students, veterans, law enforcement officials, and people with disabilities need a budget that fully funds all the services they depend on daily.
The governor needs to work with the General Assembly to pass a responsible budget with adequate revenue.
But business groups argue that revenue alone can't solve the state's financial issues.
"Simply raising taxes is not the answer to create a sustainable and bright future for Illinois families and businesses. Illinois needs major structural and transformational changes to improve the economy, create jobs, and generate precious revenue for state coffers so that we can fund important programs like education and infrastructure," said Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. "We appreciate the governor for shining the spotlight on the budget and pension debt and call on all elected officials on both sides of the aisle to work together and make the tough decisions needed to put our state on sound financial footing again."
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association President and CEO Rob Karr said businesses are facing challenges and cannot afford to take another hit to their bottom line.
"No one believes raising taxes alone, or cutting alone, will address the problems confronting Illinois. However, retailers across Illinois are operating on razor thin margins, and we cannot afford additional regulations or mandates on the city or state level that inhibit our ability to survive, let alone grow," Karr said. "As it always has, IRMA stands ready to work with all parties on crafting an agreement that will stabilize Illinois' fiscal situation and move Illinois forward economically for years to come."
Meanwhile, Illinois continues to operate without a state budget as universities, community organizations and social service agencies cut programming and staff to weather the ongoing fiscal storm. Stay tuned.
Image: AP Photo
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