Area Dem, GOP officials lash out over Illinois budget

By AUSTIN MONTGOMERY
For Stateline Business Journal

ROCKFORD — Illinois is headed for three years without a state budget and area legislators on both sides of the aisle are speaking out against the extensive impasse.
Illinois officials failed again to make any comprehensive fiscal reforms when this year’s session ended June 1.
Republicans are criticizing Democrats for approving a $5.4 billion tax hike, and Democrats are lamenting Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s unrelenting rebuffs of possible funding packages to solve the stalemate that increases the state’s debt $11 million each day a budget is not passed.
“I’m disappointed the governor and lawmakers failed to reach a budget agreement before the end of the spring session,” sand Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford).
The state is currently $6 billion in debt during this year’s budget cycle, and a new fiscal year begins July 1. Mandated funding at levels last approved in 2014 remains on the books, further increasing the deficit. State revenues were higher in 2014, and the extreme dip came when a 2011 temporary income tax increase was rolled back.
The mess is further clogged by a backlog of unpaid bills to state contractors and vendors of around $14.5 billion, coupled with $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
Another point of contention for lawmakers is the proposed, last-minute funding package worth $705 million for Chicago Public Schools. A pending property tax freeze bill promoted by Democrats has also been criticized by GOP leaders, with the legislation failing to advance in the House. The bill included exemptions for debt and pensions, two of the largest issues at the root of the budgetary stalemate.
The slowdown has led lawmakers to harshly criticize one another.
“We’ve been here trying to negotiate a real, balanced budget and we’ve demonstrated we are willing to help out with reforms, but Democrat leaders turned their backs on any kind of bipartisan solutions,” said Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford). “At some point they have to realize the best solution is found in working together to pass a budget that would be good for Illinois’ future.”
Overtime legislative session dates are expected to be scheduled later this month, according to Stadelman.
Syverson said he had entered this year’s legislative session hopeful on a budget agreement.
“January began with a lot of hope for real and positive change to the divisive climate in Springfield,” Syverson said. “But we ended in the exact same place again, with Democrat leaders refusing to work with the other side to provide any real honest solutions.”
A look at how the stalemate is hurting the state:
• Education: Institutions of higher learning across the state have said the standoff could harm enrollment numbers, coupled with cutbacks and credit downgrades. The state currently has the lowest credit rating in the country. Public schools across the state are also feeling the funding pinch, with the Rockford Public School District previously said it may use reserve dollars or rely on property tax revenues until a state budget is approved. The school district relies on state revenue for over 40 percent of its operating budget.
• Social services: The continuing process approved in place of an encompassing budget agreement left out funding for domestic violence shelters, forcing state-funded shelters to cut staff and create waiting lists. In early May, attorneys for the Pay Now Illinois coalition began litigation against the state in the Illinois Appellate Court. The coalition is seeking to force the state to honor contracts during the budget standoff for social service providers.
• Small business growth: Businesses that rely on free advice from state-funded centers to draft marketing and business plans could lose access to start up help as the number of Illinois Small Business Development Centers dropped from 35 to 20 in 2016. Twenty-seven are funded this year, according to the partial budget agreement.

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