Cullerton calls Gov. Rauner’s proposed budget ‘unworkable’
CHICAGO (AP) — The Democratic leader of the Illinois Senate on Monday called Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed state budget “as unworkable as it is unconscionable,” suggesting the Republican try again to draft a balanced spending plan that doesn’t disproportionately hurt people who are struggling to get ahead.
Senate President John Cullerton also said he and Rauner remain far from finding a way to fund state programs that already are running out of money, despite the governor’s repeated assurances that a deal is “days away.”
“I’m not looking to start a fight with our new governor. I want to work with him,” Cullerton said during a speech in his hometown of Chicago. “But I don’t work for him, and his budget doesn’t work for Illinois.”
Cullerton’s comments were another clear indication of how difficult it will be for Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature to find common ground on two budget fronts, with the two sides even disagreeing over whether negotiations have taken place at all.
Cullerton complained Rauner hasn’t invited him and other legislative leaders to sit down and discuss the issue, while Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said Cullerton has met repeatedly with the governor and has had “every opportunity” to discuss any topic he wants.
“It’s unclear why President Cullerton seems intent on undermining a bipartisan agreement to clean up the fiscal mess that Senate Democrats created,” Trover said.
The current fiscal year’s budget is short about $1.6 billion, due to Democrats approving a spending plan prior to the November election that didn’t include enough money to cover expenses. They had hoped to return after the election to pass an extension of a temporary income tax increase that was scheduled to roll back on Jan. 1, but Rauner’s win over Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn put that plan on hold.
Rauner has repeatedly said that raising taxes isn’t the answer and will hurt economic growth. He says the state must first fix “structural issues,” such as too much government bureaucracy and a too-cozy relationship between unions and legislators.
He wants legislators to give him broad authority to move money from special state funds to plug the hole in this year’s budget, but Senate Democrats have been reluctant to do so.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the Chicago Democrat believes it will be easier to get House approval for a spending fix if Rauner lays out where he would cut and which funds he would take money from to make up for shortages. Among the programs that already have run out of money is one that subsidizes day care for low-income residents.
Rauner’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — when Illinois faces a more than $6 billion shortfall — would cut more than $1 billion from Medicaid, slash in half the amount of tax revenue the state directs to municipalities, and reduce funding on everything from higher education to public transportation.
Rauner also suggested eliminating services such as scholarships and job training for foster children and other wards of the state once they turn 18, rather than 21. Cullerton said the plan would cost the city of Chicago more than $130 million in state funding, adding he would not support “any effort” to reduce the city’s share of the tax revenue.