Rauner pushes $400M in cuts to critical services

Layoffs and closures expected as governor goes rogue in budget fix

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday afternoon announced more than $400 million in cuts his administration will begin making July 1.

The cuts are in response to the imbalanced fiscal year 2016 budget just passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

While the cuts are significant and involve layoffs, facility closures and other reductions they only close the anticipated deficit by about 10 percent.

“It’s fair to say that more cuts are coming,” a senior Rauner administration official told Illinois News Network. “While these are significant, they don’t begin to cover the entire deficit.”

The Legislature on Sunday finished work on a roughly $36.3 billion spending plan which was, by Democrats’ estimate, about $3 billion over projected revenues. Democrats say they plan to work with the governor later on additional revenue.

Republicans say the plan is about $4 billion short, and Rauner has said he won’t sign an imbalanced budget. Nor does Rauner plan to seek new state revenue without what he calls fundamental reforms to the way the state functions.

Rauner’s demands include significant changes in workers compensation and lawsuit regulation, a property-tax freeze and ballot amendments on constitutional changes regarding term limits and legislative redistricting.

The Rauner administration on Tuesday blamed Democratic legislative leaders for the current predicament.

“Speaker (Michael) Madigan, President (John) Cullerton and the politicians they control refuse to act responsibly and reform state government,” Rauner Spokesman Lance Trover said in news release. “It is time they come to the table with Governor Rauner.”

Dems respond to social service cuts

Messages to the speaker’s spokesman, Steve Brown, weren’t immediately returned Tuesday afternoon. Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Cullerton, issued this statement:

“The plan passed by the General Assembly is a statement of our priorities to provide vital services and invest in the middle class. If the governor shares that goal, then he is invited to work with us to develop a full plan to fund our shared priorities in education, public safety and community services. Unfortunately, today’s actions signal that the governor would rather slash child care, services for troubled youth and senior care rather than work on a bipartisan budget solution.”

State Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said he is hopeful a spirit of compromise will prevail in Springfield.

“I’m hopeful that these two powerful gentleman, Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton,  will come to realize that at least some of these reforms are in the best interest of the state,” he said.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said he was disappointed by news of the cuts.

“It seems like a knee-jerk reaction to me,” Smiddy said. “I wish he’d be a little more agreeable to sitting down at the table. Instead, it looks like if he doesn’t get his way, he’s going to make cuts to state programs that ordinary Illinoisans need and then sit and pout.”

The governor’s office announced changes that affect departments including corrections, commerce, transportation, juvenile justice, human services, state police, natural resources and aging.

Effective immediately, all future incentive offers to companies for business attraction and retention, including EDGE tax credits, are stopped. Application approvals for film tax credits and other programs are deferred. Any commitment previously made in these programs, however, will continue, according to the governor’s office.

Funding for the Illiana Expressway project also been stopped and removed from the Department of Transportation’s multi-year plan. The administration said costs exceed available resources. Contracts and procurements for that project are suspended.

More cuts and shutdowns are coming, the administration said.

A July 1 date has been set for suspension of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, although a federal portion of the program funded at roughly $170 million will continue.

Also starting July 1, all state-owned passenger planes will be grounded and the state fleet will be maintained for emergency services only.

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said the fleet grounding is long overdue and added he’s had legislation pending for eight years to sell off most  of the state’s planes. He said  Madigan has never allowed the issue to be voted on.

State planes are used by Madigan, Cullerton and other ranking legislators and bureaucrats to commute between Chicago and Springfield.

“I think the governor has bent over backwards to compromise these last few weeks and the Speaker won’t,” Mitchell said. “I don’t agree with Gov. Rauner on everything. He’s not going to get everything he wants. And neither are Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton. There needs to be compromise.”

Citing a surplus capacity of 500 beds, the administration says it has begun identifying juvenile correctional facilities for closure. The state will also begin closing the Hardin County Work Camp, with approximately 180 inmates moved and 60 staff affected.

An audit review of nursing home reimbursements will take place to ensure they comply with recently implemented rate structures, and state staff will recover any overpayments to nursing homes, as well as implement fines for improper billings.

Illinois State Police will freeze all vehicle purchases, and the Department of Natural Resources will not award Open Space grants in fiscal year 2016.

The Department of Natural Resources will also begin the process of suspending operations and closing the five state museums to visitors while maintaining the museums to protect artifacts. This will result in 68 people  being laid offs, Chris Young a spokesman for the agency said.

The Department of Human Services will increase co-pays for parents using the Childcare Program, freeze intake and create waiting lists. DHS will also begin background checks for relatives providing childcare, rather than limiting checks to licensed centers, group homes and non-relatives who provide child care.

Trover said no legislative action is needed for the governor to move forward with these cuts.

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