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State lawmakers say budget cuts could mean dark times ahead for Metro East

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH, The Illinois Business Journal

EAST ALTON — These are dark days in the state capital and they’re about to get bleaker still, local lawmakers say.

There was no underestimating the dour mood of both state Rep. Dan Beiser and state Sen. William Haine, who addressed a business audience Thursday during a legislative update in East Alton.

“If you thought ’15 was bad, just wait ’til you see ’16,” Haine said, referring to fiscal year budgets that are posed to wreak havoc on local agencies, schools and communities.

A compromise plan to fill a $1.6 billion hole in the current fiscal year’s budget was approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last week. That move is notable because it swept several reserve funds set up to pay other expenses, including roads, Haine said.

Now, none of those funds will be available to sweep in the coming year, which starts July 1 — and when the General Assembly is faced with a loss of $5.2 billion in revenue because of the state’s decision to let a temporary state income tax increase expire at year’s end.

The governor has stated his opposition in general to increasing the tax rate, and Haine and Beiser said there is no other choice but to slash all kinds of essential services.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s got to come from somewhere. It’s going to come from Wellspring (Resources), Saint Anthony’s (Health Center), nursing homes, Alton Memorial, the assisted living centers, the Alzheimer’s centers, Senior Services Plus …” Haine said, listing Alton area agencies and others that provide key social roles and who have expressed concerns to him personally.

Haine and Beiser both said they favor a proposal that was floated by candidate Rauner, but not one that Rauner has endorsed since he’s been governor, which is to start the state income tax off at 5 percent for a fiscal year and then scaling it down over several years. The 5 percent figure is where the tax stood at year’s end before the temporary increase sunset and rolled back to 3.75 percent.

Without that money, places like Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will see a 31 percent less in the next fiscal year; K-12 districts will be cut; and mental health services will be “zeroed out”; Haine and Beiser, both Democrats from Alton, each voted no on the bailout of the current year’s budget.

Beiser, like Haine, disliked raiding the road fund to the tune of $300 million. Beiser is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“You’re going to accelerate less acceptable roads and bridges? That’s not the kind of state I want to live in,” Beiser said.

Next fiscal year is the big concern, though, he said. He’s been contacted by places like the Boys Clubs of Bethalto and Alton, Crisis Food Center, IMPACT, Oasis Women’s Center, Challenge Unlimited and many others worried about an inability to finance vital services to those who need them.

“Those are the kinds of things I don’t want to be part of,” Beiser said. “I don’t want to be part of a state that treats people and organizations like that,” Beiser said.

Several mayors were at the event, which was a luncheon hosted by RiverBend Growth Association at Julia’s Banquet Center in Eastgate Plaza Shopping Center. Some of them said they face budget cuts of $1 million or more because of the state’s situation.

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