News Local/State

Rauner Outlines State Budget Plan To Lawmakers

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2016 file photo, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. The governor gave his budget address Wednesday in Springfield.

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2016 file photo, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. The governor gave his budget address Wednesday in Springfield. Seth Perlman/AP

In his annual budget address to lawmakers, Gov. Bruce Rauner said Illinois lawmakers of both parties agree for the first time that the state needs regulatory change as well as reduced spending. 

He says "on this, we all now agree. And that is real progress.'' 

Rauner began his third budget address Wednesday at the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield by praising bipartisan state Senate negotiations attempting to break a two-year deadlock on an annual spending plan.

But Rauner rejected some of the tax proposals senators are discussing, such as an increase sales tax on food and medicine. He also said the local property tax freeze in the proposal must be a permanent one --- although tax increases could still be approved by the voters.

It was the first time Rauner had commented in detail on the Senate proposal, beyond general praise of senators of both parties for being willing to negotiate.

Rauner said in his budget address that Illinois cannot get a handle on spending until lawmakers take on "automatic spending categories'' such as pensions and Medicaid. 

The Republican governor called for a "hard cap'' on spending to force frugality. 

But Rauner pointed out that more than 60 percent of the state's general revenue is ``locked up.'' It is spoken for in contributions to state-employee pensions, Medicaid, health care for low-income residents and others. 

The state's pension programs are $130 billion out of whack. Lawmakers have attempted for years to reduce pension benefits. But courts have ruled against the plans

Despite the state's financial difficulties, Rauner said his budget plan "shows what is possible if we all come together on a comprehensive approach to state finances and job creation".

He said the budget plan includes a "record level of funding for our schools", a 10% increase to MAP Grant funding for college students, a $200 million increase in funding for the state's road program and increased support for state Child Care and other programs for children, senior citizens and other "vulnerable residents".

Democrats in the Illinois Legislature erupted in laughter when Rauner stated that that he proposed a balanced budget in 2015 and that the impasse isn't about "assigning blame.'' 

Rauner proposed a budget in 2015 that went nowhere in the Legislature. 

Rauner says it was balanced. But Democrats argue it relied on billions in gimmicks, including counting on savings from items such as pension reform which would not have been immediately realized even if it survived a court challenge. 

Democrats also laughed loudly when Rauner said he's not pointing fingers. Rauner frequently blames Democrats for the situation and heavily funds Illinois Republican Party attacks on lawmakers. 

Governor Rauner put his budget speech on a short hold at one point, because of problems with the teleprompter. 

The Republican was nearing the end of his speech when the teleprompter where the speech is displayed for him to read apparently stopped working. 

A lawmaker handed Rauner a printed copy. But Rauner said he didn't have his reading glasses and "I'm a little old for this type.'' 

The delay lasted for several minutes, during which Rauner asked if anyone had "a good story'' and told the audience he wouldn't sing because he's no good at it. 

After turning briefly to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner said Madigan had quipped: "It's the Russians.'' That remark drew laughter from across the chamber. 

Reaction to the governor budget address by groups that have been lobbying lawmakers on the state budget was quick and predictable.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association applauded the governor “for introducing a balanced budget” that includes “structural reforms addressing our pension obligations and debt”.

But the Illinois Federation of Teachers said “the governor again repeated his list of political demands, which is no substitute for an actual budget that will fund vital state services”.

Illinois House Democratic budget negotiator Rep. Greg Harris says the Republican governor shouldn't count on as-yet-unauthorized savings from pension reform, health care cuts and the sale of property to make ends meet.
Harris says including those savings in the budget leaves Democrats with questions. He plans on reviewing the proposal to ensure it doesn't shortchange workers. But he says he's "heartened'' that the first-term governor wants to work with all four caucuses.
House Speaker Michael Madigan also released a statement following the governor's address calling Rauner's budget unbalanced. The statement says House leadership will focus on continuing to protect middle class families while promoting economic growth.