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Stopgap Illinois budget staves off financial crisis – for now

IBJ staff report
    SPRINGFIELD — An immediate budget crisis was put to rest on the last day of June, but everyone in the mix acknowledges there is a long way to go to get Illinois out of its financial hole.
    There was a giant sigh of relief when the Illinois General Assembly passed — and the governor quickly signed — a six-month, stopgap measure that would help keep construction projects going and help human service providers stay open.
    “After more than a year without a budget, this partial budget is not a ‘mission accomplished’,” said Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea.
    The legislation does not address how to reduce the state’s $8 billion bill backlog nor how to pay for the additional spending.
    The partial budget does, however, ensure that schools will open on time, provides need-based financial aid for college students, keeps road repair workers on the job and funds care for elderly Illinoisans.
    The June 30 vote marked the seventh time the Illinois House passed a budget that did not include items from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s personal agenda. The difference this time was the governor dropped his demand that his agenda be considered before a budget could be approved. 
    State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said he is happy to find compromise in this legislation because the Illinois Department of Transportation now will have the resources to keep its road construction projects going.
    “But that’s not the only win we had,” Haine said. “Human services agencies like Senior Service Plus, Impact CIL and St. John’s Community Care will finally receive some of the relief they need to keep their doors open and serve seniors and those with disabilities.”
    The measure also contains Capital Development Board projects, including renovations for the old science building at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and improvements to residential buildings at the Alton Mental Health Center, he said.
    Haine said he would continue traveling to Springfield, participating in working groups and urging the rest of the legislature to prioritize the needs of the middle class and working families.
    “There are plenty of things that we all agree on, and I am committed to continuing discussions and negotiations until a full budget is passed,” he said.
    On the Republican side of the equation, state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said some of the immediate pressure is off.
    “This is a major improvement from where we were 12 months ago, however, I won’t give up advocating for more bipartisanship in order to obtain a balanced budget indefinitely,” Kay said.
    The agreement ensures K-12 schools receive the funding to open on time and remain open for the upcoming school year. Funding will be made available for all of the public colleges and universities in Southwestern Illinois, as well as for MAP grants for college students, Kay noted.

    State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who has worked at least two years to implement major school funding reform, says the temporary budget only delays what still has to happen.
    Along with state Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, the cosponsor of SB 231, the school revamp plan, he released a statement on the need to enact permanent reform to the “inequitable” funding formula:
    “Our true task remains unchanged because we still own the most regressive system of school funding in the country. Until we address that truth, and fix the formula, our work isn’t done.”
    House Speaker Mike Madigan, in floor notes issued after the budget vote, said his original priorities remain.
    “My priority, and the priority of House Democrats, continues to be the passage and implementation of a comprehensive, full-year state budget that fulfills the promises to Illinois’ middle class, the elderly, children, and most vulnerable,” Madigan said.
    With passage of a stopgap budget, the Illinois Transportation is moving forward on construction projects that were threatened by immediate shutdown.
    IDOT was faced with suspending approximately 800 road and bridge projects statewide worth about $2 billion. Among those projects was the ramp being constructed from the McKinley Bridge to Interstates 55 and 64, considered an important entry to Illinois.
    An estimated 25,000 construction workers would have been sent home. In addition to IDOT’s road program, the construction stoppage also would have halted aeronautics, transit and rail projects, including the Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed rail program.

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