Democrats say Rauner holding state ‘hostage’
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Some Northwest Side Democratic legislators said that Governor Bruce Rauner was holding the middle class hostage by proposing budget cuts to programs that would affect the most vulnerable people in the state if they do not agree with his anti-union agenda.
However, the Republican governor has said that the Democrats’ proposed budget is "phony," leading to an anticipated lengthy overtime legislative session in Springfield.
"My view is that the governor does not understand his job fully," state Representative Lou Lang (D-16) said. "The job consists of him and the General Assembly working together, but he seems to think that he is the boss and he will hold the people of Illinois hostage to prove that."
"We are fully prepared to negotiate with him, but he is holding the people hostage by demanding term limits, pushing right-to-work issues and emasculating the unions and the working class," Lang said.
Lang said that the governor’s politics could force the state government to shut down.
"He has a vendetta against state union workers, but the fact is that those workers are providing services that people need," Lang said. "People need driver’s licenses. Some people need the court system. He will say that he is battling for policy and against politics, but in reality we are battling for policy and he is battling for politics."
Rauner proposed a $35.1 billion spending plan that would leave a $6.6 billion deficit next year. He planned to fill the gap by saving $2.9 billion in employee pension changes, but that option was eliminated when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the state pension reform bill was unconstitutional. Rauner’s current budget proposal is about $4 billion in the red.
Rauner wanted to cut $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.
In response to Rauner’s proposed right-to-work agenda and other issues, the Senate Democrats have released their own wish list that includes tuition tax credits for state students and their parents for college education, increasing the minimum wage, guaranteeing up to seven paid sick days to full-time and part-time employees, and ending a variety of corporate tax breaks to bring in $334 million.
"The new provisions come as Governor Rauner has threatened to shut down state government and all state services if lawmakers don’t reduce worker protections, make it harder to sue corporations that make dangerous products and slash billions of dollars in services to at-risk children and seniors," according to a Senate Democrats press release.
"It’s a nightmare," State Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-20) said. "I’ve been in Springfield a long time, and we have a new governor who has a different governing style, and it really has all been uncharted waters."
McAuliffe said that the Senate has passed a budget that has a $3 billion deficit but that he does not know what solutions would be offered to close that gap during an overtime session. "There are a lot of strong wills down here, and nobody wants to give in, but I think that at some point some concessions will be made," he said.
"Everybody has a wish list," McAuliffe said. "We can blame each other and point fingers all day long, but we have some key dates that we need to be mindful of, and we need to come up with some sort of solutions. There are a lot of pressure points in the air but there is not much getting done right now."
State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said that the budget stalemate is frustrating.
"The way that they are playing this out in the media is ridiculous," Mulroe said. "The most frustrating thing is that he is using his agenda and standing up for business institutions and insurance companies and using the people of Illinois as leverage to increase his bargaining power."
Mulroe said that the leaders in Springfield are in direct opposition on key issues but that he is confident that legislators will come up with a solution to the budget crisis.
"People don’t hear about the good that we are doing out here, all they hear is that we are spending like drunken sailors," Mulroe said. "But in my opinion, the governor said that he is here to cut wasteful spending, but I don’t see how services for the most vulnerable counts as wasteful spending."
"We need to identify what we want as a state," Mulroe said. "We have to provide financing for education, public safety and staffing correctional facilities, but we also need to provide funding for the elderly and the mentally disabled."
State Representative Greg Harris (D-13) said that the situation is simple.
"The House and the Senate have passed their budgets, and the governor is holding people hostage because he wants us to approve his anti-union agenda, which has nothing to do with the budget," Harris said. "Right now there is a budget stalemate, and we shall see what happens."
Harris said that the budget can’t be balanced by cuts alone and that extra revenue will be needed. He said that the income tax increase that expired was an option that needed to be looked at again. Rauner said that he would not consider a tax increase unless his ideas are approved.
State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said that the House has passed a budget that would cut all of the state departments by 3 percent.
"I don’t think that the governor should shut down the government in order to get what he wants based on personal politics," Martwick said. "We passed a budget that has 3 percent in across-the-board cuts. It’s not perfect, but it’s more reasonable than cutting funding for epilepsy and autism programs."
Martwick said that he would not vote for the right-to-work issue that Rauner is proposing.
"We will stand with our friends and neighbors, our firefighters and policemen, our public servants and union members who go to work every day to help people and provide vital services," Martwick said in a statement.
Martwick said that he had voted against the steep cuts that Rauner was proposing and that he will continue to fight for "people over ideology, for support of the most vulnerable over politically charged talking points."
State Senator John Cullerton (D-2) said in a statement that he is disappointed in the direction that the state is heading.
"The governor made it clear that in the next few days, he will launch a multimillion dollar negative ad campaign designed to demonize those who are standing up for the middle class," Cullerton said. "Nothing can be more damaging to the prospects of compromise than deploying Washington-style campaign tactics rather than working on bipartisan solutions for this state."
Rauner has proposed initiatives that he said would save $400 million to begin balancing the budget.
The initiatives would suspend EDGE tax credits, large business attraction grants and the state Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, halt the construction of the Illiana Expressway, close the Hardin County Work Camp, increase co-pays for parents using the Department of Human Services Childcare Program and freeze intake rates to the department and create waiting lists.
Also, begin background checks for relatives providing care, eliminate Open Space Land Acquisition Development Grants for next year, enact means testing for the Department on Aging Community Care Program, eliminate vehicle purchases for the Illinois State Police, close one or two juvenile correctional facilities and implement an audit review of nursing home reimbursements to ensure that payments comply with a new rate structure and other changes.