Illinois budget woes reignite with spending deal’s imminent lapse
Illinois is poised to re-enter a budgetary limbo on Sunday with the expiration of temporary spending authority for the state’s cash-strapped universities and fraying human services network.
Political feuding between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the state legislature has left the nation’s fifth-largest state without a full-year operating budget for 18 months.
The impasse eased last June when both sides agreed to a six-month funding fix, but that stopgap lapses on Sunday and budget talks have broken down.
Despite the impending funding stop, some services are unlikely to be disrupted. These include public schools, prisons, healthcare for the poor and court-ordered services for the disabled and for wards of the state. Also expected to continue are payments for debt service and pensions.
But grants for needy college students and funding for public universities will cease, forcing students like Tamia Polk, a 20-year-old psychology major at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, to agree to make payments of $250 per month while her $5,000 Monetary Award Program grant goes unpaid by the state.
“In college you’re already stressed about classes and things, but there’s this other factor of not getting the money I was promised and the school is not allowing me to register unless I sign up for a payment plan I can’t pay for,” said Polk, who holds two part-time jobs and is two semesters from graduating.
Additionally, private vendors who offer mental health services, addiction treatment, in-home care for the elderly and breast and cervical cancer screenings, among other things, will stop receiving state reimbursements after Sunday.
Since taking office in January 2015, Rauner has refused to approve a budget unless the legislature agrees to pass a business-friendly package that would make it harder for injured workers to be compensated, freeze property taxes, impose legislative term limits and weaken collective bargaining rights for union members.
But Democrats have stymied Rauner at every turn.
“Dismantling collective bargaining rights in this state is a non-starter for Democrats,” said state Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat whom Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has anointed as his budget point person.
But a Rauner aide insisted no spending deal could be struck without reforms.
“Members of the majority will face a clear choice when they return to Springfield: reach a bipartisan balanced budget with reforms or support Speaker Madigan’s status quo of crisis and higher taxes without any reforms to our broken system,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)