Coins Under The Couch Cushions And False Hope

Daniel Gorog, a man with autism stands next to his father, Dan Gorog, who address a Senate committee Tuesday.

Daniel Gorog (right), a 23-year-old man with autism stands next to his father, Dan Gorog, who on Tuesday thanked a Senate committee for voting to restore money to autism programs that he credits with helping his son. But it may be false hope.

(Amanda Vinicky/WUIS)

Lawmakers are attempting to reverse $26-million dollars of recent budget cuts, cuts that affect after school programs, a tobacco quitline, and programs for children with autism.

It seems like advocates should be celebrating.

After Gov. Bruce Rauner said he was forced to earlier this month suddenly pull $26 million worth of state grants, the Illinois Senate used the legislative version of searching under the couch cushions for change.

It may seem ridiculous to call $26-million "change," but in the scope of the state $32 billion budget, it's only a small fraction.  The plan is to gather the money from reserves in special state funds.

Imagine the state's a mansion. Legislators say they'll get money from under plump cushions on rarely-used dining room sofas, instead of searching for coins from the family room couch that everybody sits on. In other words, accounts with plenty of dollars in them and that are less used will be targeted.

The money scrounged up could prevent layoffs - and ensure the programs at risk continue.  So says Senator Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat.

"We need to remember that we need to prioritize the needs of those individuals who cannot fend for themselves," he said.  "We need to realize that some of these programs that we call social service are actually life giving services for individuals that need 'em."

But here's the problem.  The House isn't on board with the plan.

Under a previous agreement with Rauner, lawmakers already swept other special funds -- to the tune of $900-million.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says she wants to know what the governor did with all of that.

"I think we just want some answers," she said.  "Where did the money go? Surely it's not sitting in the bank, or under the governor's pillow?"

The governor's office says it's been clear: that money was never enough to fill the state's current budget hole.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio