Rauner: Budget Plan Ends Years of “Financial Recklessness”

In his first budget address, Gov. Bruce Rauner said his proposal was the state's "last best chance to get our house in order"

Calling his budget the "last best chance to get our house in order," Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday laid out a plan which he said ends years of "financial recklessness."

The Republican conceded that his proposal, his first since being inaugurated earlier in the year, wouldn't make everyone happy but was one that is "honest with the people of Illinois." He said  lawmakers must be willing to make unpopular decisions to make up for a more than $6 billion budget hole next year.

Seeing cuts would be Medicaid, higher education, and state public transportation agencies.

The multimillionaire former private equity investor's top priority: overhauling Illinois' underfunded pension system in a manner that he said could save more than $2 billion.

He wants to move workers to a less-generous pension plan lawmakers approved in 2010 for new hires. Workers hired before 2011 also could have the option of moving to a 401(k)-style plan. Police and firefighters could keep their current benefits.

Lawmakers passed a pension overhaul in 2013, but labor unions and retirees sued, arguing it was unconstitutional. The Illinois Supreme Court was still considering the case Wednesday.

And even if Rauner could get a new plan through the Legislature, it's unlikely savings would be realized in the next fiscal year because of legal challenges.

Medicaid was among the programs that will see painful cuts under Rauner's plan, but he vowed to maintain eligibility levels for most low-income residents.

Under his plan, K-12 school funding would get a 6.7 percent boost in general state aid, about $300 million, which is state funding which takes care of basic costs of educating students. A decrease in funding to higher education is also expected to offset the bump.

The proposed budget also calls for trimming nearly $128 million from Chicago-area transit agencies, while increasing funding by a similar amount for road construction. Rauner said the reduction would amount to 4.4 percent of the Regional Transportation Authority's budget. The RTA's 2015 operating budget is $2.9 billion.

The RTA is responsible for financial oversight of the Chicago area's transit systems, and its budget funds Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and suburban Pace buses.

A summary released alongside the governor's address to the General Assembly on Wednesday said the state will continue to provide $131 million to support the RTA's capital improvement bonds.
State funding for downstate transit would remain the same as in fiscal 2014, and road construction funding would increase by $120 million to about $1.9 billion.

Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan both said a deal on eliminating the current budget deficit is within reach.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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