Brian's Column 03-27-2015

For the first time in twelve years, the Illinois legislature passed two bi-partisan budget bills with a unanimous Republican vote.  Governor Rauner was a driving force behind them, but both Democrat and Republican leaders joined in sponsoring both bills.  Today, I’m going to delve into the budget deal to help you understand how the legislature is going to plug the $1.6 billion deficit that was looming in front of us this spring. 

HB 317
HB 317 appropriates funds to address the FY15 deficit, specifically to make payroll at our prisons, to provide low-income working families with child care assistance, to prevent court reporters from being laid off, and to fund services for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled before funding for these programs run out.  To fully fund these programs, most line items in the General Fund are reduced by 2.25%.  In addition, the Governor was given access to a $90 million pool of funds to use to backfill operations lines, and $97 million is appropriated to the Illinois State Board of Education to offset reductions to K-12 programs.

HB 318
HB 318, sister bill to HB 317, defines and allows for emergency rulemaking for medical assistance programs and hospital assessments, amongst other items.  The bill also requires school districts to designate some of their state funding for special education expenses to maintain federal grants for special education, and the bill cuts funding for certain public services by 2.25%.

Budget Deal Strengths
The recent budget crisis was among the worst our state has ever seen.  Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the FY15 solution is that it showed that our representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle can work together to pass legislation that puts our state on the right track. It gives me hope that future forward-thinking budget deals can be passed through bipartisan teamwork and effort.

Additionally, as I mentioned before, this action taken fills big holes.  The FY15 solution means that working parents will still be able to afford childcare for their children, that court reporters will still have jobs to go to everyday, that our hard-working correctional officers will still be paid for the important services they render to our state, and that the most vulnerable of our citizens will still receive the care and services they need.

Budget Deal Weaknesses
The cuts required by the FY15 budget deal aren’t ideal.  However, cuts to important services and programs, including cuts in healthcare funding, education funding, and public aid funding, are not what any of us want, but they will help us get on the right footing so our state is in a financial position to fully fund all state programs in the future.  To offset these cuts, the Governor has discretionary funds to ease the burden over the next several months until the FY16 Budget takes effect.

I believe passing legislation that resolves the deficit but does not raise state taxes is a wise move. Thomas Jefferson said that “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” Our state is filled with diligent, industrious people who need every penny they earn. We empower them to be successful by not taking the hard-earned results of their labor away from them.

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