Quick Hit Op-Ed Tuesday March 10th, 2015, 9:31pm

Op-Ed: Rauner's Budget Plan Gives Young Illinoisans 'Cause For Concern'

The following was written by Brenna Conway, the Illinois Director for the Roosevelt Institute -- Campus Network.

On the campaign trail, Governor Bruce Rauner shared very little about how he would tackle Illinois' extreme budget crisis. His messaging told us there was a plan, that the focus would be improving the business climate of our state and resolving our overwhelming pension problem, but not how we'd achieve these goals. As we finish up his first month on the job we now have a glimpse into both that plan and his style as a chief executive. The question is, are these things that young people in Illinois can support?

It's clear that the governor has a laser-like focus on our state's fiscal problems, and with a "credible debt projection of over $9 billion for fiscal year 2016," such a focus is vitally important to getting us back on track. But his tactics thus far do not reflect they way that young people in Illinois are hoping to solve our state's problems.

Young people in Illinois are both aware and concerned about the future of our state. Over several months last year, hundreds of students and young workers came together through the NextGen Illinois project to discuss ways to improve employment, give Illinoisans a better start and skill set through education, and shift the culture of a state rife with corruption and red tape. We voted on an agenda that represents 10 forward-thinking policies, designed to reform our state and get Illinois on its feet.

We know the budget is being severely squeezed by pension and debt payments because we're feeling that squeeze on college funding programs. We know that we need more jobs in our state because we are struggling to find good paying jobs ourselves. If there is one thing that the NextGen Illinois agenda makes clear, it's that young people believe the solution to our problems will require everyone in our state to pull together.

That's why Gov. Rauner's recent budget address gives us cause for concern. The proposed budget calls for severe cuts that would impact funding for higher education and access to healthcare for low-income families, as well as significant cutbacks to employee benefit programs.

The Governor's philosophy here is at odds with the approach young people are hoping for, one that gives all Illinoisans an equal chance at success. For example, young people in our state support changing school funding to ensure that living in a lower income area no longer correlates with lower educational achievement. The governor has promised to increase K-12 education funding by $300 million and that will be a big help, but it's important to young people that the way that money is distributed helps all students receive equal opportunity, not just those lucky enough to live in wealthier districts or to win a lottery to enter charter or private schools.

Young people are also looking to guarantee valuable employment by raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation (and young people are not alone in this:  64 percent of the electorate voted to increase the minimum wage in a recent state-wide ballot initiative). But as he laid out his cuts and proposed reforms for both government offices and the services they provide, there were no asks made of our business sector to show they value their workers. Leaving this out of his budget speech and not acting on this in his initial month in office tells us maybe this isn't a priority for the Governor, despite the broad support it received, and that's a concern as well.

Some of the reforms to our government offices suggested by Governor Rauner fall well in line with changes young people in Illinois would support, such as efforts to reduce corruption and institute term limits. Young people in Illinois believe reforming all branches of our government is a must, but with each recommendation we show that we value open and inclusive processes, like taking the redistricting process out of the hands of a ruling party, or trying to reduce the influence of money in our elections and taking all lobbying - not just union lobbying - out of the state's decision making process. We're interested in realigning the balance of power towards the people through reform, not just a shift from branch to branch.

However, the biggest concern with the direction taken by Governor Rauner thus far is the severity and imbalance of this proposed budget. With no new revenue, and requiring reforms that benefit the private sector before we consider ways to save constituent services, this budget is a clear sign that there will be winners and losers in Gov. Rauner's approach to reducing our debt. It means that many of the great ideas voted on by young people, such as funding for a new trauma center or programs that incentivize energy efficiency and green business, could be off the table from the start.

Despite Governor Rauner's insistence that we need to do "what's best for the next generation, not the next election," it seems the needs and the ideas of young people are still being left out.

Image: AP

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