Illinois lawmakers and special interest groups had mixed reactions to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal Wednesday, with some commending the governor's plea to end a historic budget stalemate and others expressing concern over potential compromises.
Rauner addressed the Illinois General Assembly to propose a budget plan for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins in July. The state has been without an official budget since July of last year.
During his speech, Rauner claimed that Illinois’ finances were in peril long before this fiscal year.
“The truth is, we haven’t had a truly balanced budget in Illinois for decades,” Rauner said. “In ways both obvious and hidden, we’ve overspent, and raised taxes to cover it up.”
The state is accruing billions of dollars in debt as a result of court-mandated spending and floundering revenue.
"Although we succeeded last year in eliminating an inherited $1.6 billion budget hole without a tax hike, we are now in our 8th month without a state budget – and court orders are forcing us to spend beyond our means," Rauner said. "Shocking, yes. Acceptable, not even close."
Senate Majority Caucus Whip Iris Y. Martinez voiced frustration over Rauner’s inability to pass a budget.
The budget stalemate could soon result in layoffs at public universities and community colleges and further cuts to social services.
“It’s frustrating that the governor gave his budget speech for next year when there is no budget for this year,” Martinez said. “I’m committed to adequately funding K-12 education, but it’s hard to get past the fact that college students and state universities aren’t receiving state aid.”
Sen. Melinda Bush stressed the impact the budget stalemate has had on social services and higher education.
“A long-term, partisan agenda does nothing for the charities that are closing or the college students that are dropping out because of a lack of grants,” Bush said in a statement. “These people need a real, balanced budget proposal, right now.”
Sen. Tom Cullerton worried that Rauner overlooked some important programs during his speech.
“Sadly, the governor made no mention of vital programs- seniors’ and veterans’ services, drug prevention programs to address our ever-growing heroin epidemic and funds to repair roads and bridges,” Cullerton said. “I urge him to consider communities’ needs and put forward a responsible budget to fund important services for the people of Illinois.”
Sen. Laura Murphy commended Rauner’s call for the state to live within its means but stressed the importance of investing in Illinois’ “neediest populations.”
Rauner maintained in his address that funding for early childhood education and the General State Aid foundation level remain among his top priorities, but Sen. Kimberly Lightford said funding may not be enough.
“Funding our schools without reforming our unfair education system does more harm than good,” Lightford said in a statement. “No matter how much wealth you have, throwing money at a problem is not going to solve it without understanding the real issues at hand.”
Senate President John J. Cullerton applauded Rauner for making education a priority, but claimed Rauner's budget speeches "don't help Illinois."
"The governor can be a vital ally in resolving what's become the defining crisis of our time," Cullerton said in a statement. "But reform won't come by simply throwing money at the existing system. We need a complete overhaul."
Sen. Pat McGuire agreed with Rauner’s education initiatives but showed concern over the lack of attention the governor placed on the state’s strained social services.
“The governor mentioned human services only in passing neat the tail end of his speech,” McGuire said. “I am stunned by the governor’s avoidance of the day-to-day toll his inflexibility is taking on the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, and our neighbors and family members battling mental health.”
The budget impasse hinges on Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda which is focused, among other things, on weakening unions. Rauner will not agree to tax increases proposed by Democrats until the demands of his agenda have been met.
Rep. Lou Lang claimed Rauner did not introduce a budget during his speech and was simply advancing his Turnaround Agenda.
“Rather than introduce a complete and balanced budget as required by the Illinois Constitution, Governor Bruce Rauner today punted,” Lang said in a statement. “Instead, he presented for the 1,547th time his discredited Turnaround Agenda and he renewed his budget hostage pledge for a second year.”
Sen. Linda Holmes also expressed concerns about Rauner’s agenda.
“In one plan, Governor Rauner continues to ask that we enact his highly partisan agenda before anything else can get done,” Holmes said in a statement. “In the other, he asks for authority to make cuts that he already possesses through selectively vetoing appropriations. The reason he’s presenting his second budget today while his first one remains unpasted is because he declined to use that very authority before.”
Still, Rauner said if reforms are not put in place, "cuts will have to be made." He suggested if lawmakers don't want to work together on those cuts, that they give the Executive Branch "the flexibility to reallocate resources and make reductions to state spending as necessary."