Nearly a month after he issued approximately $26 million in spending cuts to programs affecting areas such as autism assistance, indigent burial services and HIV/AIDS outreach, Gov. Bruce Rauner has reversed course. Yesterday, the Rauner administration restored what many took to calling “Good Friday cuts,” since the governor announced them on April 3, the day of the sacred Christian observance.
The cuts were announced a week after Rauner approved $100 million in corporate tax incentives that had been approved under former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, but that had yet to be awarded.
“His administration approved tax breaks for companies such as eBay, CapitalOne, CDW and SAC Wireless to name a few,” said state Rep. Chris Welch (7th) at the time the cuts were announced. “In my opinion, this move is a slap in the face to all of the organizations that received millions of cuts on Good Friday, and it will certainly make for interesting budget negotiations these next few weeks.”
Democratic legislators made it interesting indeed as they staged countless press conferences and rallied constituents throughout April. On April 14, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus held a press conference to raise awareness about how the cuts would affect people of color in Illinois.
“We expressed our opposition to cuts that would have a severe impact on the advancement of communities of color,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader and Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Kimberly Lightford (4th).
“Dismantling programs whose main purpose is to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers and ensure mental health programs receive adequate care would have been a disservice to taxpayers,” she said.
“For our Governor to listen to the voices of Illinoisans give [sic] me hope that we can find reasonable solution to complex issues facing our state,” said state Senate Black Caucus Chairman Emil Jones III (14th).
And later in the month, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) held an April 27 press conference in Austin at the Plaza Arms, 501 N. Central Ave., to address the governor’s cuts. Ford stressed that the governor’s focus on austerity proved a point that many liberal and progressive lawmakers have been stressing for a long time — that the state has a revenue problem.
“He has made it crystal clear that Illinois cannot afford certain programs unless we have more revenue,” said Ford, who has been a vocal proponent of various progressive revenue-producing measures, such as replacing the state’s flat income tax rate to a graduated income tax rate.
In March, Ford held a press conference with area childcare providers after the governor seemed to drag his feet on taking the action necessary to fill a $300 million budget hole in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) fund. Earlier this month, the General Assembly passed a stopgap bill to fund the program until June 30, the end of this fiscal year.
“We had two successes,” said Ford. “Child care and now the Good Friday cuts, because people came together to let their voices be heard,” he said.
The announcement that Rauner would restore the cuts was made after the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability announced that the state has collected between $300 million and $500 million more in income tax revenue than the amount that was projected.
The agency’s executive director, Dan Long, told the Chicago Tribune that the money is a “one-time” increase that has materialized after tax returns were filed and that it seems to result from a stronger than expected stock market.
But Democrats, and the people who rely on the programing that the approximately $26 million funds, shouldn’t get too overjoyed, said the governor’s aides. The money should be processed within the coming month, but that’s before other programs, such as a smoker’s hotline, will have to shut down completely.
And then there are the cuts that may be here to stay, namely the $300 million in slashed funds “Rauner administration and state lawmakers agreed to in late March to fix the current budget,” the Tribune reports. “Rauner aides said the cuts will be made because the administration wants to be flexible should other unexpected shortfalls arise. They also say the administration wants to whittle away at a more than $6 billion backlog in unpaid bills.”
Programs that will still be on the chopping block even after the Good Friday cuts have been restored include the sickle cell center at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (facing $500,000 in cuts), the state’s domestic violence shelters (facing more than $400,000 in cuts) and the Monetary Award Program (MAP) for college students (which was cut by $8.4 million this year).