It wasn’t the sound of one hand clapping, but the general reaction to Gov. Rauner’s Budget Address on Wednesday came pretty close.
The spending vision the governor laid out for Illinois was bleak, at least for those well below the governor’s tax bracket. The governor’s budget plan calls for brutal cuts that will be felt in areas of great need, including:
- $400 million reduction system wide
- More than 30 percent cut to all public universities over 2015.
- Illinois Board of Higher Education general funds cut by 50 percent
- Illinois Board of Higher Ed grants eliminated.
- Illinois Math and Science Academy reduced by nearly 8 percent.
- Division of alcohol and substance abuse – $27.5 million reduction
- Division of mental health — $82 million reduction
- Elimination of Best Buddies, Project Autism, Arc of Illinois, Homeless youth services, Immigration Integration Services, Illinois Welcoming centers
- $23 million reduction to Early Intervention Program
- Eliminates services for young adults ages 18-21
- $700 million reduction in budget for group health
- Reduces from 8 percent to 4 percent the share of income tax provided to local governments. $600 million reduction.
As Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown points out, the governor’s attempt to blame his cuts on decisions made before he was elected isn’t wrong, but it is incomplete.
With the rollback of the state’s temporary income tax increase that took effect Jan. 1, Illinois gave up at least $4 billion in annual revenue that would have cut next year’s deficit by nearly two-thirds.
If not for the reduction in income tax rates, the state would be looking at no more than a $2.2-billion deficit, nothing to brag about certainly, but not requiring nearly the draconian cuts outlined Wednesday by Rauner.
The cuts inarguably are aimed at average folks. The people who look to the state to provide services or access to services. People who expect the state to keep its promises.
Those would be the folks in TRS, SURS and the other state pension systems who, if Gov. Rauner could just wave a magic wand, would tomorrow find themselves in a lesser pension plan with lower benefits going forward.
Which brings us to today’s good news. In the interests of finding the silver lining, we give you Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie).
“One of the things Gov. Rauner has to learn is the Illinois Constitution refers to the General Assembly and the governor as partners,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. “He wants to run the government like it’s a business, we’re middle management, and he’s the CEO, and we must take orders. That’s not going to work.”
The good news about today’s speech is that Governor Rauner cannot autocratically impose his dark vision for Illinois. We will share our ideas with the governor and we will work with the members of the Illinois General Assembly, both Republicans and Democrats, to develop a plan to move Illinois in the right direction.
The best thing about the Rauner budget plan is that he doesn’t get to be “The Decider.” Illinois’ future is very much in the hands of the legislature.
And, therefore, in yours.
It will take active involvement by all of those who care deeply about public education and children to make sure this state moves in the right direction.
It’s going to be a memorable spring legislative session.