Illinois General Assembly Works To Resolve Budget Impasse
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This week, lawmakers in Illinois face a deadline. By tomorrow, they are supposed to approve a budget. In the time that some states have passed two budgets, Illinois lawmakers have not been able to pass one. Amanda Vinicky of our Member Station WUIS in Springfield reports on what happens now.
AMANDA VINICKY: Lawmakers are working throughout the holiday weekend to see if they can accomplish in a few days what they haven't been able to do since last summer - agree on a state budget. Will we see a repeat of this year's ongoing feud between a wealthy, freshly minted Republican governor and Democrats who dominate the legislature? That's left the state without a complete budget for 11 months.
EMILY MILLER: Illinois is really a test case in dysfunction at this point.
VINICKY: That's Emily Miller who lobbies on behalf of social service providers dependent on state funding. You could rightfully assume that a budget battle is over, well, money. But, no. This one is about power and a fundamental clash in philosophy. Democrats, like House Speaker Michael Madigan, accused Governor Bruce Rauner of holding the budget hostage to unrelated political demands aimed at helping his wealthy friends.
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MICHAEL MADIGAN: The governor's objections to House Democratic budget priorities are based on his insistence that the General Assembly first pass his personal agenda, which is targeted at diminishing the wages and the standard of living of the middle class and other struggling families.
VINICKY: Rauner's a former private equity investor who's now investing tens of millions of dollars in Republican campaigns, including his own. He became Illinois' first GOP governor in a dozen years last January. Rauner's agenda calls for stripping unions of collective bargaining rights, reducing the compensation available to injured workers and term limits for legislators. The governor says he'll agree to a tax hike.
BRUCE RAUNER: Nobody thinks that a tax hike alone - just a tax hike to bounce a budget - is the right thing to do. They don't want - hard-working families here. It's hard-working small business owners. They don't want their money to go into a broken system that they can't trust will actually use their money wisely and balance the budgets in the future.
VINICKY: Meanwhile, the deficit continues to build. Illinois' $100 billion in long-term pension debt stands unabated. Some of the state's public universities are laying off faculty and closing programs. Applications are down as weary students apply out of state. And legislators' paychecks are delayed because there isn't money to pay them on time, likewise for insurance companies, electric utilities and other vendors.
That's led dozens of fed up social service agencies, including an early childhood nonprofit run by Governor Rauner's own wife, to sue the state. Some weren't able to wait and shut down. While the political fight drags on, Emily Miller, with Voices for Illinois Children, says it takes a very real human toll.
MILLER: For some people, this is a matter of life and death. There are, for example, suicide hotlines where if you call, you're told that there's a six-month waiting list to speak to somebody. If you are facing mental challenges that significant, being told that you need to wait six months to speak to somebody is not helpful. And you're likely not going to get the help you need in time.
VINICKY: If lawmakers don't reach a bipartisan compromise by tomorrow, there's a big chance Illinois' stalemate will drag on as they turn their political focus elsewhere - the effort to try to retain their seats in November's election. For NPR News, I'm Amanda Vinicky in Springfield, Ill.
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