Local legislators speaking at a chamber of commerce event on Monday said Gov. Bruce Rauner needs to work with the general assembly when trying to close projected gaps in the state budget.
State Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, and State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, gave an update at a Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce event about the ongoing state budget talks in Springfield. The update was part of an Issues and Eggs Breakfast sponsored by the chamber and its government affairs committee.
Rauner, who took office in January, and the General Assembly are tasked with closing a $1.6 billion budget gap for the current fiscal year and a $6 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Rauner proposed many cuts in order to close the 2016 fiscal year budget gap, including cuts to after school programs, state universities, and income tax distributions to local municipalities.
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“I think governor is a very decent man, has great ideas of what he believes should happen,” Clayborne said. “State government is totally different for him. I don’t think he really understands the consequences, as to some of the decisions he has made.”
Clayborne said the governor is not considering new revenues as an option for the state.
“We’re trying to get him to understand there has to be compromise, we’ve got to sit down and work this through,” Clayborne said.
He added that Rauner’s staff is still learning about the budget process.
“I think it’s a dysfunction of bringing a lot of new people in who don’t have institutional knowledge,” Clayborne said. “I’m not saying this as a negative. One day I was young. Most of these young men and women are in their early 20s. … It’s a different process for them. We do have challenges. Hopefully we can work through it. There is a desire to work through.”
In an emailed statement, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the governor is committed to working with the legislators.
“Illinois’ fiscal crisis was caused by years of mismanagement, and getting Illinois back on the right track will require difficult decisions and votes,” Kelly wrote. “Governor Rauner is committed to working with Sen. Clayborne and Rep. Hoffman to fix the current budget hole and implement a Turnaround Agenda that will grow the economy and bring jobs to Illinois and the metro-east.”
Hoffman added the state’s pension crisis will continue to affect budget issues, as the state has one of the largest unfunded liabilities in the country.
The state Supreme Court is looking at a pension fix that was signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.
“If they rule it is unconstitutional because it’s denying a benefit that was already earned, we’re facing a serious budget problem,” Hoffman said.
The governor proposed a $2.2 billion pension savings in his budget proposal. “It may be long term, but it just wouldn’t right away,” Hoffman said. “If this pension stuff isn’t rectified, we’re really back to square one.”
Hoffman also said a proposed cut to income tax distributions to municipalities would be detrimental to the area.
“The idea is you share with local governments, so the property taxes don’t continue to rise,” Hoffman said. “It would have a real impact on public service if we were to do that.”
Paula Jones, who owns TreeHut Preschool and Child Care Center and StoneyBrooke Academy of Early Learning in Belleville, said the state government should have been trying to solve these budget problems more than 10 years ago.
She also asked about funding for child care and preschools. She said the state is expected to be be one-and-half to two months behind on payments.
“We really have been worried about the funding,” Jones said.
“How can you help us not to go out of business?” Jones added. “It boggles my mind. It makes no sense to start putting businesses out and losing all that revenue. It’s going to be huge … it’s going to happen very soon, that a lot of them will start closing down.”
Clayborne said there are proposals to allow the state to borrow money or transfer money from other funds to help deal with the shortfalls in the state for this fiscal year.
Hoffman added one of the faults of the temporary income tax hike was it wasn’t tied to longer-term budget planning.
“It was passed very hastily,” Hoffman said. “What I would say, next time we look at revenue, … we should have a four- or five-year budget plan that goes along with it, so we don’t all of a sudden have a cliff that goes along with it.”