Budget Bridge and Nation Divided

***Guest Column***

It is with heavy heart that I write this column today. In Dallas on Thursday, there was another senseless tragedy. For me, and other law enforcement officers (both active and retired), this one struck close to home. Divisiveness and anti-police propaganda has finally run its natural course. Putting on the police uniform every day has never been an easy job, but now – with so many united against them – our nation’s public servants are in more danger than ever. I humbly urge all of us to calm the rhetoric, disassociate ourselves from those whose only intention is to divide us, and to work together for the common good of our country.

The State of Illinois, and its fiscal woes, is put into perspective by these events. But nevertheless, I am reminded that this column is intended to give you insight into what’s going on in Springfield. Illinois finally has a partial budget. The Governor and the Leaders’ stopgap spending plan will serve as a bridge to a comprehensive budget until January 1, 2017. Albeit a temporary budget, it still is a budget that will keep the lights on at our vital state services while we continue to negotiate a permanent solution.

Have you ever tried to untie a knot with tension on the line? It’s nearly impossible. Our state is in a knot right now and this temporary solution reduces the tension as we try to untangle our state. This stopgap budget does not count on the enactment of a tax hike, yet it satisfies priorities of both parties. Each side had to concede and each side got a portion of what they wanted. Even though we do not see these types of compromises often in Illinois, this is the way politics is supposed to work.

Some Human Services in the State of Illinois have not been paid since July 1, 2015. Several healthcare companies were on the brink of closing their doors. Some were forced to lay off workers and reduce services. This budget will provide $701 million to Human Services. That amount of funding, coupled with the spending authority from court orders will pay these agencies over 90% of their costs that they incur from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016.

Our state highway projects affect the livelihoods of 25,000 construction workers. Without a stopgap budget, the state stood to lose significant federal funding and the remobilization of the construction crews would have cost the state tens of millions of dollars per day. This budget will appropriate necessary road funds so our construction crews can continue their capital projects, which will keep food on the table for 25,000 families in Illinois.

This stopgap budget provides a full year of funding for elementary education and secondary education. For the past year, Governor Rauner and the Republicans have fought for more funding for K-12 education. As one of the Governor’s priorities, this appropriation is a record high level of funding for K-12 schools and provides a $75 million increase in Early Childhood Education.

If a budget had not been reached the prisons would have stopped receiving food, utilities would have been shut off, mental health facilities and veterans’ homes would have closed their doors. Instead, this stopgap budget will allocate a combination of “Rainy Day Funds” and leftover General Revenue Funds to cover critical state services and K-12 education without raising taxes on the citizens of Illinois.

I have said it time and time again, we need structural reforms in this state. Although this stopgap budget does not include structural reforms, it demonstrates a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner. For too long, our state government had been a standstill. On the last day of June, we witnessed the most significant indication that the General Assembly is ready to work in unison to solve our state’s issues. Going forward, I have renewed optimism that both sides will work together to make our state a better place for families and businesses.

It is imperative that both parties build on this bipartisan effort and continue to hash out a permanent plan to correct the systemic issues that face Illinois. This plan is only a temporary fix for our state’s predicament. The stopgap budget only postpones doomsday unless we stay at the table and create a long term solution. Looking ahead, I hope that we continue this trend of working together in good faith and have a dialogue that encourages innovative bipartisan approaches to the problems facing the State of Illinois.

The core of compromise is to be unified by one goal, whether it is the goal of living in a safe community or the goal of passing a budget that is best for the state of Illinois. Pope John Paul II said it best when he said “What unites us is much greater than what divides us.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.