I am headed to Chicago today to meet with the new Secretary of the Dept of Human
Services, Greg Dimas. Community integration and other items on the agenda.
The Governor met with his Cabinet and told them to get ready for a long summer. The
House held a hearing on the new Secretary of Education, Beth Purvis, having he
r salary being paid out of the Dept of Human Services budget. I just want a state budget
agreed to that protects the human service safety net.
Interesting Perspective from Eric Zorn from the Chicago Tribune.
Keep asking yourself that question as the General Assembly heads toward a summer
overtime session that’s shaping up as the most dramatic in state history.
Never mind the side issues — the items in Rauner’s “turnaround agenda,” such as a
freeze in local property taxes and business-friendly changes to workers’ compensation
laws that the Republican governor is insisting be enacted before he’ll talk ledger
numbers with the Democrat-controlled legislature. F
ocus, people: What does Rauner propose to spend, and how does he propose to pay
Yes, he released a budget document in February. It contained controversial and, to
some, alarming cuts to mass transit, higher education, local governments, human
service and Medicaid as part of his effort to make up a roughly $6 billion anticipated
shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
But it wasn’t real. Rauner’s plan relied on $2.2 billion in anticipated savings from a
change in pension law that he admitted would require a constitutional amendment to
enact. Even assuming everything were to go Rauner’s way in the amendment process,
actual savings wouldn’t kick in until fiscal year 2017.
Democrats also contend that $3.6 billion in other cuts outlined in Rauner’s budget book
run variously afoul of collective bargaining agreements, consent decrees and federal
and state law, and that the Rauner administration hasn’t taken the necessary legislative
steps to try to pave the way for such cuts.
Let’s set that claim aside, though, and look at just the $2.2 billion hole left when we
erase Rauner’s pension-savings fantasy.
Can he identify $2.2 billion more in cuts he’d make to state programs?
Perhaps, though, you’ll recall the explosion of anger and concern on Good Friday
when he tried to cut a mere $26 million in spending for the last three months of the
fiscal year. Even prorated for an entire year, those cuts, ultimately restored, amounted
to less than 5 percent of the cuts that would be necessary to equal $2.2 billion.
The Illinois Constitution requires the governor to “prepare and submit” a budget in
which “proposed expenditures shall not exceed funds estimated to be available for
the fiscal year.” He hasn’t done so.
He hasn’t done so.
Now, the very next paragraph in the state constitution requires legislators to pass
appropriations bills that, similarly, “shall not exceed funds estimated by the General
Assembly to be available during that year.”
And the Democrats haven’t done so. Instead they’ve passed a series of spending
measures that total about $3 billion more than the state is expected to bring in next
Is this a phony budget, or merely an aspirational negotiating gambit reflecting
Democratic priorities? Either way, when combined with the various tax hikes
Democrats have said they believe are necessary for the state’s economic health, it
has the virtue of creating a relatively straightforward bargaining position:
We know what the Democrats propose to spend and more or less how they hope to
pay for it. We don’t know the same about the governor.
What does Rauner’s ideal budget look like, with and without “turnaround”
concessions from the Democrats? On Tuesday afternoon, his office announced a series
of modest trims that hinted at the answer, including suspending business incentives,
halting the state’s low-income energy assistance program and ending state plane
passenger service. Additionally, the governor announced he’d look to close “one or
two” juvenile correctional facilities and five state museums, begin means testing the
Community Care Program for seniors and increase parental copayments for low-income
day care services.
The news release estimated the cuts amounted to $400 million, but that’s still far short
of what’s needed for a balanced budget. So what taxes will he agree to hike and what
other programs will he choose to cut in order to balance the state’s books?
A full answer would require a lot more specifics of the sort Rauner has avoided ever
since he became a candidate. Specifics tend to rile up noisy and often sympathetic
constituencies such as the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, parents of school
children and so on.
Specifics distract from his simple message that unreasonable, irresponsible Democrats
have driven our state into the economic ditch.
But budgets are built on specifics, often painstakingly negotiated through grudging
compromise. It’s hard enough when one side isn’t bringing to the table a tangential set of
supposedly nonnegotiable demands.
I won’t pretend here to catch the vapors over the very idea of a politician using leverage
in one area to extract policy concessions in another, but really? Is Gov. Rauner really
planning to hold our state’s most vulnerable citizens hostage until he’s able to check a
few items off his broader agenda? Does he really think he has a popular mandate to try
to impose dramatic cuts in programs and services if he doesn’t get his way on workers’
comp and property taxes?
Maybe so. But before you fit him for his white hat, you ought to find out what those cuts
will look like. Or, since he’s unlikely to say, you ought to at least try to imagine.
Come for a cup of coffee, stay for a candid conversation with Tribune columnist Mary
Schmich and me Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Printers Row Lit Fest.
Comments: www.chicago tribune.com/zorn
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423