News Local/State

Lawmakers Host Marathon Budget Hearing On U of I Campus


After a two-week break, lawmakers return to Springfield Tuesday for the latter half of their spring legislative session. But reaching a budget compromise won’t be easy, if Monday's marathon budget hearing in Urbana is any indication.

Cities and counties in Illinois would see their share of state money cut in half under Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget. Rauner says cities and counties have extra cash reserves, and shouldn't need as much state money as they've been given in the past.

But Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer called that assertion "grossly inaccurate." Eisenhauer pointed to statute that mandates $1.2 million in reserves at all times, and said this money only makes it look like municipalities have extra cash due to a different fiscal year than the state.

"I beg you not to sink the local ship in favor of trying to keep state afloat," Eisenhauser said.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, once a state representative herself, says the state’s budget woes aren’t the result of anything her city did, but rather the state putting off hard choices.

“The local governments can’t do that; we have to balance our budgets every year," she said. "If cities were running the state, I think the state would be in better shape right now than it is.”

Prussing says her biggest cost -- and biggest complaint -- is state-mandated pension increases, like a recent bump to firefighters.

Governor Rauner says one solution to pension mandates could be for a local government to declare bankruptcy.

“Today it’s illegal," Rauner told CBS Chicago Monday. "The special interests who want to just force taxpayers to spend more even though the compensation may be way above mark and unaffordable…”

Rauner says he’s pushing for local governments’ ability to declare bankruptcy -- something the state cannot do.

The budget hearing stretched on all Monday afternoon. What began as a crowded room, including a few silent protesters with signs, was nearly empty by 6:30 p.m.

After five hours of testimony against Governor Bruce Rauner’s suggested budget cuts, Marlin Livingston, the CEO of Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana, took the mic. Rauner has proposed eliminating state assistance for foster children over age 18, which Livingston says would leave young adults homeless.

“We have 43 kids here locally…and they want to know -- because they’re not stupid -- they want to know where they’re going to live at on July 1, so what do you want me to tell them?” Livingston asked the panel.

Livingston says the state’s continued support of foster children from ages 18 to 21 provides care that could prevent wards of the state from ending up in the criminal justice system.

Rauner’s proposed budget would cut $167 million dollars from the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. Lawmakers will spend the next month and a half debating that, along with $2 billion of other potential cuts.