In light of the recent budgetary impasse currently grinding progress in the state House and Senate to a halt, Gov. Bruce Rauner has made provisions he hopes will force the state legislature’s hand. He says he plans to close state facilities and curtail the allocations of funds for senior and childcare services if there no a budget agreement by July 1.
Among the services facing the axe would be two juvenile detention facilities and five state museums. Rauner also said he would ground several state aircraft. Additionally, the governor wants to desist funding for the $1.5 billion Illiana Expressway between interstates 55 and 65 south of Chicago. Rauner already halted the work on the project in January.
A key reason for the disagreement between the governor and the congressional Democrats lies with the Madigan-Cullerton budget, named after its authors House Speaker Michael Madigan (22nd) and Senate President John Cullerton (6th), which requires several tax increases to address the current revenue shortfall of between $3 and $4 billion.
In a press statement, Rauner questioned the seriousness of the budget plan approved by the House and Senate and laid out an alternative proposal that he claims will save the state upwards of $400 million. It is worth noting, however, that the administration has yet to provide data supporting this assertion.
Another change the governor is proposing is placing an income limit on services provided by the Community Care Program, which allows seniors to receive care in their own homes rather than having to be admitted into a nursing home. The Rauner administration has not offered any hint as to what the income limit would be if this plan is indeed enacted.
“I do have confidence that we will reach an agreement and that the governor is going to work with the House and Senate to pass a budget by the deadline,” said State Rep. La’Shawn Ford (8th). “However, I don’t believe that the people should be punished for our issues with reaching an agreement. There need to be changes made and the Democrats are ready to vote for reform, make necessary cuts and generate revenue. But the governor is going to have to abandon this belief that gutting these vital social services is the key to solving all of the state’s problems.”
The West Side legislator expressed appreciation for the governor’s willingness to tackle the major challenges facing Illinois, including the still unresolved $100 billion deficit in the pension system. But he feels that some of the proposed cuts would only exacerbate the state’s woes.
“I’m concerned about the proposed cuts to childcare and LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program],” said Ford. “When you look at the possibility of defunding the childcare program you’re talking about creating a situation where the recipients suddenly can’t afford to pay for childcare services, which will mean they have to leave their jobs, which means more of a burden to the state.”
“We can’t talk about addressing the state’s financial problems if we are going to cut programs that are going to hurt the average worker and potentially make them more dependent on government assistance,” Ford said. “We have to look out for the workers.”
Ford says he believes that the two sides will reach an agreement prior to the July 1 cutoff, but each side needs to be willing to work with the other, putting “the people before agendas.”
“I just find it disconcerting the fact that the governor is using the budget talks to push his anti-union agenda, especially since he never ran on it during his campaign,” said Austin community activist Dwayne Truss. “We as taxpayers have a say in these proceedings and we need to make our elected representatives know that we are not in favor of the direction the governor wants to take the state.”
State Representative Mary Flowers (31st) believes that the decent with the governor’s office is primary caused by disagreement over the revenue stream.
Rep. Flowers champions the Financial Transactions Tax Act, or HB3548, a bill which was first introduced in 2011. The bill would levy a one percent tax on stock, swap and credit default swap exchanges. Flowers claims that the tax would bring in between $8 and $10 billion to the state per year, which she says would go a long way to closing the state’s budget deficit.
“New York already has a tax on traders,” said Flowers. “I think that we are doing a disservice to our constituents if we are only going to ask them to sacrifice or pay higher tax rates when we are not doing the same to the traders who are involved in these risky high frequency transactions.”
However, despite Flowers’ vocal backing of the legislation, the bill appears to be a nonstarter with the governor and members of the stock exchange.
“It would substantially disadvantage Illinois-based exchanges relative to their competitors and potentially even lead to Chicago-based exchanges relocating,” argued Patrick O’Shaughnessy, a Chicago-based exchange analyst, in an industry trade publication. “The net result would be a loss of jobs and possibly a loss of revenue for Illinois,” he said.
Nevertheless, Flowers is confident that there will be a budget agreed in the near future and that the governor’s proposed cuts to social services will be avoided.
“I feel that we will reach an agreement soon,” said Flowers. “It is in all of our best interest to show our constituents that we can work to solve the state’s problems. It’s time to get it done.”