Not counting the present incumbent, I’ve worked over the years with three Republican and two Democratic governors. I’ve never known the state to go a full year without a budget, let alone two. But that seems to be where we’re heading today.
Governor Bruce Rauner sets preconditions before he will craft and approve a state budget. The preconditions change from time to time, but they include non-budgetary items like term limits, statewide property tax freezes, limits on public employee collective bargaining, and changes to redistricting procedures.
Seven times during his tenure, however, the governor has approved a spending plan without any precondition.
I think it’s time he did it again. Many state responsibilities are met through court orders and consent decrees. State workers are being paid, and the state will ultimately cover the costs of most medical care for the poor. Elementary and secondary schools are open; the kids are not on the streets.
But some major programs have been left on the cutting room floor. Public higher education, including tuition help for low-income college students, hasn’t seen a red cent from the state since the end of 2016. Many social service agencies are without state support as well—services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, some meal programs for the elderly, help for children with autism, shelters for the homeless.
In late April, the House passed a measure, dubbed the Lifeline budget, to fill some of the gaps. To pay for the spending, we tapped two dedicated funds in the state treasury, one designated for human services and the other for education. The Lifeline budget would not make either social service agencies or public universities whole, but we hope it would give them the help they need to stay alive through the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. The program that helps low-income college students, for example, would fully fund grants from last semester, but cover only about half of the awards from the current semester.
The bill is now in the state Senate.
We stand ready to continue discussions with the governor on his non-budgetary agenda. But it would be unconscionable to ignore our immediate responsibilities. Without the Lifeline budget, many of these important agencies and institutions are at risk of shutting down.
So I am hopeful that the governor, as he has in the past, will decide it’s time to govern the state of Illinois. I am hopeful he will sign the measure when it reaches his desk.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)