Rauner demands cuts but can't name any
More than a dozen of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s agency directors testified in Senate committees last week about cuts they would make to reduce the $5 billion hole in the governor's budget proposal.
The grand total of the Rauner administration’s savings proposals: $0.
Agency directors said they were unable, unwilling or unprepared to offer any savings or program cuts.
“I’m asking you for one cut. Can you give me one cut?" Senator Patricia Van Pelt, a Chicago Democrat, asked Rauner’s director of public health.
His response: “I’m not prepared to discuss any.”
Worse, the governor’s prison system director didn’t even show up to answer budget questions. This comes as a new state financial report shows Rauner’s budget is more unbalanced than initially feared – the deficit is now just short of $5 billion.
“Gov. Rauner created this budget crisis by refusing to be realistic and reasonable about what he could accomplish,” said Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and Senate budget point man. “The least he can do now is to accept responsibility for his own grossly unbalanced budget proposal and start talking specifics with the people of Illinois so they can prepare for what’s coming.”
The Rauner administration’s inability to point to cuts presented a confusing scenario for lawmakers. For the third year in a row, the governor has asked lawmakers to give him the power to make cuts to balance spending. But when asked to identify reductions, the governor's handpicked agency heads balked.
“I would suggest he may be ill prepared ... when not a single one of his agency directors can even suggest a single cut,” said Senator Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat who chairs one of the Senate’s budgeting committees.
The Senate’s focus on budget cuts came after Rauner wrecked the Senate’s balanced budget plan, claiming it didn’t reduce spending enough.
“What’s frustrating is that we have a governor who has derailed budget negotiations and presented an unbalanced budget for next year,” said Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, a Shorewood Democrat.
Senators constructed a budget and reform package containing a dozen proposals. Nearly half won bipartisan approval, but the governor pulled Republican votes off the final deal even as he publicly acknowledged that he was relying on it to balance his own budget.
At the moment, the Senate budget solution remains on hold while Senate Democrats await word that there is Republican support for the proposals GOP helped put together. The Senate has been poised to vote several times on the deal this year, only to have Republicans bail out at the last minute.
Senator Toi Hutchinson, a Chicago Heights Democrat, pointed out that every day Rauner stalls, his administration costs Illinois taxpayers another $11 million.
In the news: Democrats: No answers from state agencies on where to make cuts
In the news: Senate frustrated by Rauner’s agencies budget-cut silence
Tribune opinion: Do-over duty: Rauner and GOP must repair or replace broken compromise
Rauner demands cuts but can't name any
Senate Democrats last week advanced legislation to bridge the gender wage gap, protect students and crime victims, support veterans and more. Some of the highlights:
Senator Kwame Raoul’s legislation, Senate Bill 2872, to expand access to trauma recovery services for crime victims was signed into law. Raoul noted that treating trauma is an important part of curbing violence. The legislation, called the Neighborhood Safety Act, also encourages inmates to participate in rehabilitation programs while in prison and expands some sentencing discretion for judges. Raoul is a Chicago Democrat.
Senator Daniel Biss’ effort to narrow the gender wage gap advanced out of a Senate committee Wednesday, which was International Women’s Day. The measure bars employers from asking job applicants about their salary history, a practice that perpetuates gender discrimination and wage inequality. Biss is an Evanston Democrat.
Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) wants to remove the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against minors. Last week Attorney General Lisa Madigan testified in support of the measure, as did Scott Cross, one of the victims of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Senator Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) advanced legislation to ensure federal funds meant for Title 1 programs go to at-risk students rather than teacher pensions. Currently, almost half of Title 1 funds are used to pay down the state’s pension debt. Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Ehren Jarrett testified in favor of the measure, which could free up millions of dollars for Rockford schools.
Senator Iris Y. Martinez, a Chicago Democrat, was featured on an Univision Chicago story about her efforts to stop the influx of drug addicts to Chicago from Puerto Rico and provide assistance to restore their dignity. The issue was brought to light last year in a report about the terrible conditions in which these individuals live, despite assurances from Puerto Rican officials that they will receive addiction counseling in the United States.
Senator Martin A. Sandoval (D-Chicago) introduced legislation that prohibits state agencies from contracting with any business that contracts with the federal government to build a wall along the nation’s southern border.
Senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) is tackling issues brought forth during Veterans Suicide Taskforce hearings. He’s proposed a measure that would allow officials to note veteran status, branch of military and period of time served in the military on decreased veterans’ death certificates. The measure passed the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs with bipartisan support.
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