Another busy week for The Arc with the Governor introducing his Budget Address on Wednesday. I am expecting the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget to be similar to last years budget proposal. However, it will be interesting to see if the Governor includes a wage increase for Direct Support Professionals because the Ligas attorneys meet with the Judge this week. See editorial below on the State Budget from the State Journal Register.

Today Meg and I meet with the Chairperson of the Executive Forum Steve Boisse. Later this week The Arc Team heads to Springfield for the Budget Address and the Dept. of Human Services briefing. Also, Meg will  be flying to Washington D.C. to meet with Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc of
the United States and his team. Meg knows her way around D.C. and it is good to see her connecting with our national staff.

Next week Tuesday, The Arc will host a DDD Budget Webinar for the Executive Forum, Arc Board and Staff.

Our View: Budget options would help Illinois determine best path forward
Illinois lawmakers have for decades abdicated their responsibility to the future.

Year after year after year they spent more than the state took in. They skipped or shortchanged pension payments. They dug a hole of debt, and even as it got deeper, never thought about what it would take it fill it back in.

Except …;

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
He wasn’t talking about Illinois’ finances, but that quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln — who was born 208 years ago Sunday — seems prescient. The sins of reckless spending and inaction are upon the state. Illinois is beyond broke. The stack of unpaid bills totals about $11 billion. The unfunded pension liability is about $130 billion. The state’s bond ratings are just above junk status. Residents are fleeing in droves. Lawmakers haven’t even bothered to approve an annual spending plan since 2015.

Illinois can no longer keep trying to escape its tomorrows. No one expects a turnaround overnight: It took decades to get here, it’s going to take time to right the course. But the sooner change starts, the faster we reach some semblance of stability.

There have been hopeful signs. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno introduced a “grand bargain” budget proposal of 12 interlocking measures that would start the journey of getting the state back on firmer financial ground. The plan — still making its way through the Senate — wouldn’t end this fiscal year with a balanced budget, but Cullerton has said it would provide the framework for a balanced budget by June 2018, the end of the next fiscal year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address is set for Wednesday for that same fiscal year. Cullerton was onto something Monday when he said during a speech at the City Club of Chicago that if Rauner presents a balanced budget proposal, Illinoisans will have two plans to consider and can determine which one is the best path forward.

Granted, balanced budgets are almost a misnomer in Illinois. Few have ever truly been balanced. Even determining whose responsibility it is is debatable: The constitution says the governor is required to submit a balanced budget. It also says the legislature must pass a balanced budget. If it doesn’t arrive balanced, the governor could use his considerable veto powers to get it into shape. Of course, if they have the votes, lawmakers can overturn those vetoes.

Wednesday will be the third budget address Rauner has given since being elected. His 2015 proposal appeared balanced, but it anticipated savings from pension reform that the courts struck down. Lawmakers in turn sent him a budget that spent about $4 billion more than the state had. In 2016, he proposed a budget that acknowledged a revenue hole, saying he’d agree to new taxes if the legislature would agree to his business proposals. When that didn’t work, he asked for the ability to make cuts himself, but the legislature blocked that, too.

Rauner has indicated that he may take a similar approach in this year’s budget address. He should instead present a detailed plan so we can have two plans — his and the Senate’s — to consider.

The governor is correct that the state needs structural changes. For too long, too much has been relegated to the can’t-fix-it bucket instead of addressed.

The governor told the SJ-R editorial board last week that given the level of debt and the unfunded pension obligation, cutting alone will not be sufficient to solve the state’s problems. Illinois also can’t tax its way out.

The state must instead grow its way out, he said, by making Illinois competitive and attractive to job creators. Given the state’s location and its transportation infrastructure, there’s no reason that can’t happen, he stressed.

Agreed. So what should be cut? Which revenues does he want to increase? How do we use the state’s universities and colleges to provide a strong, educated workforce? If he wants lawmakers to work with him on achieving his vision, they need to know what he wants.

He’s going to take flack if he puts his ideas out there. He can join Cullerton and Radogno, who have been bombarded with criticism since unveiling their plan a month ago. No one said it was easy to be politically courageous.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Lincoln would be disappointed in today’s legislators for not realizing this sooner. Yet today, as we remember perhaps the state’s greatest resident ever, lawmakers could work on restoring honor by vowing to end the exercise in idiocracy Illinois has been mired in for too long.

Tony Paulauski's signature
Tony Paulauski
Senior Advisor
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
815-464-1832 (OFFICE)
708-828-0188 (CELL)