The stopgap budget proposed by House Democrats last week amounts to offering crumbs to a person who hasn’t eaten for a week. While it might momentarily ease hunger pains, it would not provide the stability needed to get that person fed daily.
The latest “act” in our legislature’s political theater was the House on Thursday approving 64-45-1 a stopgap budget along party lines that proposes providing $800 million to human service programs and higher education. The money would come from two special state funds that receive a small part of income tax receipts; the money in these funds can’t be spent until the General Assembly authorizes it.
The funds are expected to have more than $800 million in them by the end of the fiscal year in June, and the proposed House bill would dole out $258 million to social-service programs and $559 million for higher education. Chief sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, called the bill a “lifeline” budget.
It’s true that human services and higher education institutions desperately need funding. The lack of a spending plan has led to Northeastern Illinois University cutting three days of instruction. Eastern Illinois is considering axing academic programs, and Western Illinois has laid off more than 100 instructors. A March survey of human service agencies done by the United Way of Illinois found that 69 percent of agencies had received no or only partial payment for state services delivered in fiscal year 2017. That’s up from 35 percent last fiscal year.
The damage is only going to get worse, and could become irreversible. But passing a stopgap budget now would only provide the help needed yesterday, while leaving providers worried about tomorrow. And it would remove pressure to pass a full, permanent state budget, a constitutional obligation that hasn’t happened for nearly two years now. We repeat: nearly two years.
Even social service providers say a full budget is needed. The Illinois Partners for Human Service called the stopgap “a very thin lifeline.” Executive Director Judith Gethner said the proposal would offer to “pay pennies on services already provided” and while some money would be better than no money, “we want to see evidence of bipartisan discussions to pass a comprehensive budget because this stopgap bill does not provide enough money to even keep current programs open.”
Illinois needs the stability a full-year budget would provide. And yet the key to getting a budget is bipartisan input and support; Thursday’s vote indicates the stopgap doesn’t have it. If by some legislative miracle the Senate did pass it, the governor will veto it. Given Thursday’s vote, House Speaker Michael Madigan does not have the votes to override it.
Gov. Bruce Rauner reiterated Wednesday — in a video where he denounced the stopgap measure before it was even introduced — that he wants an actual budget.
“Instead of focusing on stopgaps that serve the Springfield insiders, we should be coming together to pass real and lasting solutions to our problems — a truly balanced budget, job creation, a property tax freeze, spending caps, term limits and pension reform,” Rauner said.
Illinois must have a real budget and substantive structural reforms to help it step away from the quicksand it’s been using for its financial footing. And progress was happening under Senate President John Cullerton‘s and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno’s Grand Bargain budget compromise, which had been chugging along until Rauner’s concerns about aspects of it derailed its momentum. The Grand Bargain has never been perfect, but it is an honest-to-God attempt by Cullerton and Radogno to do right by the state’s residents.
The governor needs to be personally negotiating on a deal. Given that lawmakers have the next two weeks off — not that they’ve actually accomplished anything so far — there’s plenty of time for him to work through his differences with Cullerton and Radogno.
The Senate could consider the stopgap budget when they return the week of April 24. But it would be better if instead they voted on an updated Grand Bargain — because the stopgap would fall to the wayside as pressure shifted to the House and Madigan to get on board with approving a real budget.
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April 8, 2017 at 01:19PM