Who will get short end of the stick in Rauner budget game?

  • Bruce Rauner

    Bruce Rauner Associated Press File Photo

Updated 4/13/2015 8:01 PM

Spring break is over for Illinois lawmakers, and they'll return Tuesday to hash out a state budget that will most likely leave suburban schools, mayors and caretakers fighting for their share.

Those and many state-funded entities face a seven-week scramble to save their budgets as lawmakers consider a yearlong spending plan dogged by billions of dollars of debt.


"There never seems to have been enough money to go around," said Dianne Yaconnetti, CEO of Lambs Farm, a Libertyville agency that serves more than 250 disabled adults. "There must be other ways to balance the budget."

"These are people who up until the early 1960s were discriminated against," Yaconnetti said. "Agencies like Lambs Farm assure that these people have a nice place to live."

Last year, lawmakers left the budget in the red, without enough money to fund child care subsidies for low-income families, court reporter salaries and other programs. The state legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner passed last-minute measures in March to close those funding holes.

Rauner says he won't look at passing a budget until his non-budget agenda moves forward, despite a May 31 deadline for a spending plan.

"There are parallel tracks here," said State Sen. Chris Nybo, an Elmhurst Republican. "One track is budget and one track is the governor's substantive agenda."

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The bills on Rauner's priority list include changing rules for workers' compensation and for filing lawsuits, allowing local governments to establish Rauner's so-called "right to work" zones where workers would not have to pay dues to unions, and other measures. Many insiders expect Rauner to use his budget proposals to create leverage for what he calls his structural reforms.

Nybo says that for Rauner, the budget is the "biggest tool in his arsenal."

"You hear the word 'leverage,' and to get the budget past both chambers, Gov. Rauner isn't going to want to sign that bill until he makes progress on his substantive agenda," Nybo said. "Everybody understands this is a give-and-take process, and the governor is not just going to be on the giving side."

Local mayors worry their funding needs will fall by the wayside. If Rauner and lawmakers reduce their towns' cut of state income taxes, they say it'll put a dent in their reserves or force them to cut back.

"We need the reserves to carry us through emergencies," Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said.

The village operates on a calendar-year budget, while the state's fiscal year begins July 1. That means that if the state gives less money to municipalities than expected, infrastructure projects like street resurfacing and sewer work could be halted or delayed.


"We know the state is in a deep fiscal hole, but we need to make sure the government and legislature understand the impact of this budget proposal," Juracek said.

Cutting state funding for nonprofits -- say, at places like Lambs Farm or local drug treatment centers -- passes the problems created by those program shortfalls down to local governments, Juracek says.

"If they're cut, they're going to fall down into the municipal level," Juracek said. "Perhaps there are areas other than human services and public safety (lawmakers) can look at cutting."

School leaders are also worried they won't get enough money from the state.

Rauner fixed this year's budget hole by cutting school funding 2.25 percent, even though he ran on the notion he wouldn't cut school funding.

That meant a loss of $3.1 million in state money for Elgin Area School District U-46. And U-46 CEO Tony Sanders says the district is hearing it should not expect state payments for some mandated programs this year. That sets the district back another $18 million.

The money schools don't get from the state comes from local property taxes. But Rauner has also proposed freezing local property taxes, leaving school leaders wondering what they'll do next.

"It would be a double hit if we lose state funds and we can't increase taxes. That's the only revenue we control," Sanders said.

Such issues, and the politics surrounding them, make it seem unlikely a budget deal will come easily.

State Rep. Laura Fine, a Glenview Democrat, says people have been calling her concerned that funding for social services could be permanently slashed.

"A lot of these groups are helping the most vulnerable people in Illinois," Fine said. "There are a lot of legislators who take these issues to heart because these are our neighbors, family members and constituents."

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