Lawmakers, Rauner Trying to Negotiate Fix For Budget Gaps

Lawmakers held a hearing to discuss additional funding for the state's subsidized day care program, which needs roughly $300 million more to continue helping low-income parents through June

A day after outlining an ambitious agenda for his first year in office, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Thursday was confronted with a state budget that is millions of dollars short for programs such as subsidized day care that are rapidly running out of money.

Lawmakers held a hearing to discuss additional funding for the state's subsidized day care program, which needs roughly $300 million more to continue helping low-income parents through June. The Department of Corrections and Revenue Department also are running low on funds, as is the account used to pay court reporters.

Representatives from the governor's office said Rauner wants lawmakers to grant him wider authority than he currently has to maintain underfunded portions of the budget by reallocating money from other areas that aren't "critical priorities." Rauner's budget director Tim Nuding said the governor's office wanted the flexibility to address all problems in the current year's budget.

"We don't have the ... authority to spend another dime until the legislature gives us the authority to do it," Nuding said.

Negotiations on the subject are ongoing between Rauner, a Republican, and leaders of the Democratic legislative majorities, and all sides involved have so far declined to disclose details.

The idea is proving unpopular with some members of the Democratic-run General Assembly, who are concerned about which areas Rauner might cut to reallocate funding elsewhere. They're also accusing the Winnetka Republican of using some programs, such as subsidized day care, as pawns as he tries to pressure Democrats to give him the broader authority he wants. Rauner has pledged to manage the state's budget crisis without raising taxes.

The day care crisis is the most pressing issue as a result of the $35.7 billion budget lawmakers passed last spring.

The plan didn't allocate enough money to pay for expenses while a debate on whether to extend the state's income tax increase was pushed off. Heeding Rauner's request not to address any "substantive" issues until his inauguration in January, lawmakers didn't address the issue in their fall veto session, and the tax increase rolled back Jan. 1. A roughly $2 billion revenue gap is expected by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Illinois Department of Human Services officials, in a letter to parents and day care providers last week, warned that state funding has run out for the fiscal year and only federal funding remains.

The letter noted that "payment delays will get progressively longer" as time goes on.

"I am going from working three or four jobs to possibly being homeless," single mother Chandra Ankoor tearfully told a panel Thursday, describing what might happen to her family if state funding for her children's day care fees was eliminated. "I'm asking you to figure it out and find the funding. Because I figure it out every day."

But impending shutdowns also loom for other agencies, including the Department of Corrections, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Justice.

"We're gonna fix it," Rauner told attendees at a stop in Troy, as he launched a four-day swing of southern Illinois, echoing many of his themes from Wednesday's State of the State address. "We'll get the money where it needs to go."

Democrats, meanwhile, cautioned that time is of the essence.

"I want to reiterate the importance of making sure we don't conflate existence of an immediate crisis as part of some broader policy goal," Democratic state Sen. Daniel Biss said. "That can put at significant risk the humans in the program that's about to run out of funds."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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