Tax revenues up, Rauner to restore $26 million ‘Good Friday’ cuts

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Better than expected revenue from income taxes will allow Gov. Bruce Rauner to restore $26 million in cuts to human service programs his office made in April, according to his staff.

A senior Rauner staffer on Thursday also said the additional revenue makes the administration more confident it can get through fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, without additional cuts.

While Rauner’s staff did not specify how much state income the governor’s office anticipates, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability said its projections show income tax receipts coming in from $300 million to $500 million better than previously projected.

However, Jim Muschinske, the commission’s revenue manager, cautioned the additional revenue could not be counted on to repeat for fiscal year 2016, as many of the increases in income are likely attributable to a number of events and market conditions that might or might not occur in tax year 2015.

The commission is the Legislature’s bi-partisan economics and budgeting arm.

The $26 million in cuts, announced on Good Friday, drew Rauner some heat.

First, the cuts hit programs for citizens perceived as among those most in need, including people with autism, addicts, at-risk youth, even families of the indigent needing burial.

Second, they came after what was perceived as a short-term, bipartisan budget fix.

The General Assembly in late March approved a bill authorizing $1.36 billion in fund transfers and imposing a nearly across-the-board 2.25 percent budget cut. The goal was to close a $1.6 billion budget gap.

For a short while, cooperation on the March compromise was hailed as a win for everyone.

But the Rauner administration on April 3 announced the new cuts and House and Senate Democrats were angered.

Democrats including the budget-fix sponsors — House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie and Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicagoans — said they thought the budget-fix package protected mental health and developmental disabilities funding, including for The Autism Program.

Democrats spent several committee meetings grilling Rauner officials on what had happened, prompting Rauner’s budget chief to apologize for any miscommunication.

But budget director Tim Nuding also added he was sure and other top Rauner aides had made clear the March fix would work in concert with, and not instead of, further possible cuts by the administration.

Even Thursday, there was some disagreement on whether the Good Friday cuts were absolutely necessary.

“The governor had the authority to avoid those cuts based on the corrections we made in the FY ’15 budget, so he’s correcting a mistake the administration made,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

“Although it did cause a couple of weeks of anguish for a lot of families, it’s good to see him correct it,” Brown said of the $26 million funding restoration.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said he thrilled to hear the money was available and the governor could restore the cuts in question.

Rauner “quickly pivoted and made a nice decision, the right decision, and I’m very happy for those individuals and organizations involved,” Sandack said.

But Sandack added a caution: The governor and General Assembly still have to address a projected $6 billion hole in the fiscal year 2016 budget.
“There are some very, very difficult decisions ahead,” he said.

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