Legislators discuss governor’s budget proposal
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Some Northwest Side legislators have called Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget "unrealistic" because it contains cuts to state services and government agencies that are so severe that they would not be approved by the Illinois General Assembly.
Rauner’s proposed $35.1 billion spending plan would leave a $6.6 billion deficit next year. He plans to fill the gap by saving $2.9 billion in employee pension changes, cutting $1.3 billion in aid to cities and other government agencies, reducing Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals by $1.2 billion, reducing services by $800 million, eliminating $100 million in earmarks, moving the poor to the health exchange to save $100 million, and saving $200 million in operational efficiencies.
"We must be willing to take actions we’d rather avoid, and make decisions that may seem unpopular in the short run, but serve the best interests of the people of Illinois in the long run," Rauner said in his budget address. "The budget outlined today is the budget Illinois can afford, and that in itself is an example of ‘thinking anew.’
"The current budget was $1.6 billion in the hole when it was signed last year, and the prior administration directed state agencies not to control their costs," Rauner said. "As a result we are in the middle of a crisis that gets worse every day."
"The amount of money transferred to local governments in Illinois has grown 42 percent over the past decade," Rauner said. "The state currently transfers $6 billion every year to local governments. Those governments are currently sitting on more than $15 billion in cash reserved. Think about that. The reduction in local government sharing in this budget is equal to just 3 percent of their total revenue.
"What we proposed is a turnaround budget. It improves public safety, provides care for our most vulnerable residents, boosts funding for education, and restructures the core costs of state government that are holding us back."
Other proposed cuts include limiting eligibility for Department of Aging Community Care Programs and decreasing services by an hour a week, cutting funding for the state Department of Children and Family Services by $148 million and eliminating all services for those age 18 to 21 for another $167.1 million, eliminating dental and podiatry services for undocumented children, and eliminating the exemption for drugs for several mental illness from the four-prescription limit.
Rauner also plans to cut $735 million from hospitals serving Medicaid users, reducing community substance abuse programs by $27.5 million, increasing child care copays, reducing $82 million from community health programs and eliminating state funding for service programs such as After School Matters and Children’s Place.
"It goes too far," state Representative John D’Amico (D-15) said. "Some of these cuts are preposterous, and we are just moving the burden onto the middle class and poor people. We could all use a haircut and a trim here and there, but this is truly zeroing in on the middle class and the people who need services the most."
D’Amico said that he does not get the sense that Rauner would like to negotiate with the legislators to reach a compromise. "Some of the things that he wants to do is cutting the government distribution fund," he said. "That will be devastating to the city, but even more so to the surrounding communities.
"Basically this would force a property tax increase in those communities, and that is not right because they also have to maintain their police forces and fire fighters and it would cut essential services.
D’Amico said that he is puzzled by the extent of the proposed cuts.
"You need some cuts and some more revenue, and first you need to negotiate," D’Amico said. "This is not my way of dealing with something like this. It’s way too high."
D’Amico said that the savings in pension changes that Rauner is proposing are unconstitutional. "That’s like saying that I will be buying a house because I will win the lottery next week," he said. "You cant’ rely on funds that you don’t have."
State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said that he thinks Rauner is not seeking to negotiate. "I don’t think that this is a negotiating tactic for him but what he actually believes, and I personally disagree with him," Martwick said.
Martwick said that when Rauner met with legislative leaders he said that "he wanted complete financial authority for the next year to turn the state around and that he would make all budgeting decisions."
"I don’t really see how Rauner can move forward with this and how he will handle this," Martwick said. "I think he will have problems."
Martwick said that the House and the Senate will pass their own budgets and Rauner will veto them "and we will be here all summer."
"I believe that this is not a negotiating position," Martwick said. "I can’t imagine a middle ground at this point. It’s so far fetched."
State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said that Rauner promotes the idea of creating a "compassionate and competitive Illinois."
"I’m not sure how cutting services for the people that need it the most factors into that," Mulroe said. "He wants a lot less for Medicaid, less for cities, for people with illnesses, no dental funding. It’s like everyone needs to go to an emergency room with a toothache."
"I’m really concerned about the cuts to public state universities because that will just drive up prices and the cost of tuition on students who can barely afford ramen noodles," Mulroe said. "It’s not a compassionate budget, and this has the potential of having less people go to college.
"He’s cutting the city, the CTA, the CPS budgets and relying on pension savings that will most likely get challenged by the courts. He wants everyone to sacrifice but I don’t see how they are sacrificing on his part."
"This is the first inning of a nine-inning ball game, and we could even have extra innings," Mulroe said. "It’s his budget so let’s see some of his bills. It’s a new day for Republicans in the House and in the Senate because before they could just not vote on a controversial issue and vote yes on petty things. We will see what will happen."
State Senator John Cullerton (D-6) said in a statement that the content of the budget "raises significant questions about its viability in the legislative process."
"The governor deserves credit for keeping his promise to increase education funding for Illinois students," Cullerton said. "However, I’m disappointed that Governor Rauner’s budget will disproportionably impact the working families of those same students.
"Governor Rauner’s plan includes proposals that will undermine access to health services, child care, affordable college and retirement security for working and middle class families. These programs provide many of the work supports and opportunities that families need to succeed and respond to the economy."
Cullerton said that the budget’s "basic math still doesn’t work in his proposal. Governor Rauner leaves a $2.2 billion hole in the budget by relying on unrealistic revenues from a questionable pension proposal. Even as the courts review a significant test case, the governor’s plan banks phantom savings for a pension plan that may fail key legislative and judicial tests.
"When we passed pension reform last year, we took care to exclude possible savings from budget plans pending a legal resolution. The governor’s plan rejects that wisdom."
State Senator William Delgado (D-2) said in a statement that he understands that the state is facing tough financial decisions but that "the governor and his proposed cuts to the Department of Children and Family Services just force some of the most vulnerable populations to suffer the most."
"As a former child welfare specialist, I worked directly with these children and gained a deep understanding of how these services help them increase their chance to success," Delgado said. "Cutting ties with them after they turn 18 is setting them up for failure.
"Does the governor really think that children who have endured troubled childhoods are completely ready to fend for themselves simply because they turned 18? This is the time in their life that the need the most assistance in their transition to adulthood, when they are faced with responsibilities that society demands."
Delgado said that he would not support a budget that cuts funding for education and human services programs.
State Senator Dan Kotowski (D-33) said in a statement that he support’s Rauner’s efforts to live within the means provided by taxpayers but that he was concerned "that this budget does so at the expense of taxpayers who are working hard and playing by the rules without seeking to end business as usual in Springfield and without shaking up what needs to be shaken up in the state Capitol.
"I have talked very publicly about the fact that Illinois has over $1 billion dollars in protected, surplus money for roads and other special interests right now, but instead of accessing this protected, special interest money, the governor’s budget raises property taxes by cutting funding to local government, increases tuition for hard-working families by slashing funding for higher education and punishes the most vulnerable people in our state by reducing support for children and adults living with special needs and autism," Kotowski said.