Illinois News

Rauner pledges higher funding for schools, roads

Illinois Budget
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 15, 2017 10:00 pm Updated: Feb. 16, 2017 8:24 am

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — After 20 months without a state budget, Gov. Bruce Rauner used Wednesday’s budget address to urge a bipartisan solution and promote a “grand bargain” put forward in the Illinois Senate.

But Rauner also made it clear he wants seven changes to the multi-bill plan moving through the Senate. He wants a permanent property tax freeze, a hard spending cap, tougher balanced budget rules, no new taxes on food, medicine or retirement incomes, reforms for workers compensation, pension reform and a vote on term limits.

“For the first time, legislators from both parties are standing together to say that Illinois must have structural change to grow our economy and create good jobs in every part of our state,” Rauner said.

The Republican told legislators during his third budget address that spending cuts “need to be real — no smoke and mirrors” and insisted his plan would balance the budget.

However, as it stands, it would leave a $7 billion hole without matching revenue.

If enacted as introduced Wednesday, the state would spent nearly $40 billion, 22 percent more than the $33 billion in revenue the plan counts on, according to budget documents released after the speech.

Rauner proposes spending $37.3 billion, but only after saving $2.5 billion with changes to state employee health insurance; selling the James R. Thompson state office building in Chicago; making procurement more efficient; and instituting other changes, most of which require legislative approval.

And if he achieves those cuts, there’s still a hole of $4.6 billion. Budget director Scott Harry said the governor hopes that will be covered, with help from the Legislature, by economic growth, more spending cuts, and tax increases that come out of the Senate compromise.

Rauner said his budget plan will have record funding for K-12 schools, a $200 million boost for transportation, and construction dollars to start building a new veterans home in Chicago.

State Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, liked the focus on education.

“I believe every child in Illinois deserves access to a high-quality education. We should do everything we can to meet that standard,” Tracy said. “It’s time to buckle down and work together in a bipartisan manner to pass a balanced full-year budget and rebuild Illinois’ economy.”

Rauner also asked for pension reforms that will slow growth in the state’s long-term obligations. State pension programs are $130 billion short of what they need to pay promised benefits to retired and current employees.

He wants to change payroll rules that allow state employees to start drawing overtime if they exceed 40 hours of work a week, up from the current 37.5 hours.

Early reports also indicate that several youth programs, including Teen Reach would receive no funding under Rauner’s budget plan. Quincy Teen Reach has been kept viable over the past two years thanks to support from businesses, individual donors and committed volunteers who have provided homework help and supervision for young people attending the after-school program.

State Rep. Greg Harris, the Illinois House Democratic budget negotiator, warned that the budget should not include savings from pension reforms, health care cuts and other things that have not been approved.

Rauner said he’s open to an income tax increase if some of his priorities are approved, but he sidestepped specifics.

“As for revenue, we’ve always said that we’d consider revenue if it comes with changes that create jobs and grow the economy,” Rauner said.

After repeatedly praising budget proposals put together by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, Rauner said a temporary property tax freeze doesn’t go far enough.

“We need a permanent property tax freeze in Illinois,” he said.

In addition, Rauner pledged to never give up on allowing Illinois voters to decide onpolitical term limits and redistricting reforms.

State Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, praised Rauner’s willingness to work with Democrats on a budget.

“No one party or one chamber can do it on their own. It must be collaboration,” she said.

Democrats in the House chamber where Rauner spoke laughed as the governor said he proposed a balanced budget in 2015. Afterward they told reporters that much of that rejected budget relied on savings that would not have been seen for years even if Rauner’s list of reforms were instituted.

Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, indicated that the House will pursue other budget options.

“Unlike the governor’s stay-the-course plan, Democrats are proposing a new way forward” that lifts up the middle class and provides good jobs that help businesses grow and that expand the economy, Madigan said.

Reaction to the governor’s budget plan outside the Legislature also was divided.

“The governor again repeated his list of political demands, which is no substitute for an actual budget that will fund vital state services,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. said he was encouraged by Rauner’s call for compromise. He said the goal must be to pass a budget.

“Our members are frustrated with the lack of action of the last two years. Every day without a solution costs Illinois another $11.5 million in increased debt. This crisis must end now,” Guebert said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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