Rauner, GOP say stopgap budget the first step toward something greater
After months of disagreements regarding the state budget, Illinois lawmakers found themselves in a friendlier place after the General Assembly passed a stopgap budget this month that will temporarily fund the state’s schools and basic human services through January.
At a press conference announcing the passage of the bill, Gov. Bruce Rauner thanked state Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Dist. 82), Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Dist. 41) and the Republican caucus for standing firm, forcing Democrats to cave on some key issues.
“I would also like to say, personally, a thank you to Senate President John Cullerton (D-Dist. 6) for some flexibility and creativity in the negotiations,” Rauner said. “I would also compliment (Chicago) Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel for some flexibility and some creativity on his part, and the Democratic caucus has been willing to compromise, and we thank them for their efforts in that regard.”
Rauner’s change in rhetoric came nearly one month after his attempt to get the stopgap budget passed in Springfield fell flat in the House when Democratic leadership opted not to call the bill to the House floor for a vote and focused instead on a separate bill that was largely viewed by Republicans as a bailout for Chicago Public Schools.
“Let’s be clear: This is just a small step in the process of making Illinois strong and healthy and vibrant,” Rauner said. “This is a small step in the right direction. This is not a budget. This is not a balanced budget. This is not a solution to our long-term challenges. This is a bridge to reform.”
The bipartisan effort will keep the state running until legislators hammer out an actual budget, which Democrats have indicated they do not want to vote on until after the November election, Rauner said.
Thanks to the temporary funding, schools across the state will be able to open on time this fall, and services for the state’s most vulnerable residents -- including veterans and the mentally disabled – will continue until January.
The plan also ensures that road construction projects across the state will continue, and that the Department of Corrections gets funding to pay for food and utilities for inmates.
Rauner said Illinois has a history of a political system that is not responsive to the people of the state, and that success in the passage of the stopgap budget should not be perceived as a substitute for reform.
“Our efforts will never cease to change that,” Rauner said. “We need fundamental reform to change that direction. I believe, I firmly hope that right now we’ve hit the bottom – this is the low point in the evolution of Illinois, and now we begin to move up.”
Durkin, also present at the press conference, commended all legislators on both sides who worked hard to negotiate and accomplish the governor’s plan.
“We didn’t get everything that we wanted,” Durkin said. “We will continue to work on a full comprehensive budget, one that is balanced, but today is a good day for taxpayers because we stopped the Democrat majority from passing a $7 billion unbalanced budget on the people of Illinois and every taxpayer.”
Radogno took to the podium to explain that the stopgap budget did not include a Chicago bailout.
“What has traditionally happened in this state when there is a crisis in the city, the city legislators come, hat in hand, and ask for a state bailout," Radogno said. "That did not happen. We held firm on that."
Radogno went on to say that some headway had been made in discussions surrounding possible reform.
“I am very pleased to say that one piece of what we passed today was a commitment to address pension reform in exchange for assistance to the city of Chicago with their pension problems,” Radogno said.
In the weeks leading up to the bill’s passage, legislators had come under increased pressure to settle political differences and fund education as the possibility of schools not opening in September became a major concern – a consequence for which neither party wanted to take the blame.
Under the plan, K-12 schools will receive the same amount they received the previous school year, or more, and an additional $80 million in funding will be appropriated to early childhood education. School districts serving students from low-income families will receive a portion of a $250 million poverty grant. Both fund sources will grant CPS approximately $131 million in state funding.
Approximately $670 million will go toward immigration services, autism services and youth programs, and an estimated $720 million will be set aside for state facilities to cover utilities, food, medical care, gas and repairs to the state's fleet of vehicles.
Of the approximately $1 billion appropriated to higher education, the state’s nine universities are expected to receive approximately $655 million; community colleges, including City Colleges of Chicago, will get $114 million; and $151 million will be set aside to cover tuition grants for low-income students -- making good on a promise made last year.
“We came to a reasonable place, a bipartisan compromise, and I’m cautiously optimistic we can use the negotiations that got us here to bring a constructive resolution after November 8,” Rauner said.