Illinois is facing a budget crisis, and Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has a plan to address the state’s financial woes that comes straight out of the playbook of Midwestern Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Mitch Daniels in Indiana.
Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Illinois state legislature, have long opposed the types of austerity measures the governor is proposing. Rauner has repeatedly said that he will work with state lawmakers to pass his draconian cuts to government spending.
Rauner’s budgetary goals include slashing funding for low-income immigrants in Illinois, HIV education, a statewide autism program, and some Medicaid coverage.
The governor has already used executive action to unilaterally alter the state’s public employee laws and curtail labor unions in the state. While labor unions have challenged the action in court and the state comptroller has refused to implement the action, Rauner is still attempting to implement the measure by alternative means.
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Rauner said he will use the state’s financial problems as “leverage” to push a legislative agenda favorable to business interests, blaming government bureaucracy and labor unions for the state’s financial problems.
“Crisis creates opportunity. Crisis creates leverage to change … and we’ve got to use that leverage of the crisis to force structural change,” Rauner said during a meeting with the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
Rauner and and legislative leaders, facing a projected budget deficit of $6 billion, will attempt to negotiate a final budget before the May 31 adjournment deadline.
Rauner began a public relations campaign Monday in hopes of rallying public support before the budget negotiations with state lawmakers.
The agenda Rauner is promoting, “The Illinois Turnaround,” is a veritable wish list of right-wing economic reforms. These reforms include weakening compensation for people who work, limiting eligibility for unemployment benefits and implementing tort reform.
The plan includes allowing local governments to pass ordinances limiting workers’ collective bargaining rights and creating so-called employee empowerment zones, a concept that is being pushed by Republicans in Kentucky.
The “empowerment zones” are a version of so-called right-to-work laws, often promoted by by right-wing think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). They have become commonplace even in states with strong union traditions, like Wisconsin and Illinois.
Right-to-work laws have negative effects on wages, income, access to health care and other measures of quality of life. Six out of the ten states with the nation’s highest unemployment rates have right-to-work laws, according to national research.
The state-wide tour comes in the wake of an executive order announced Friday that suspended $26 million in social services and public health grants. The executive action part of a compromise solution negotiated by the governor and legislative leaders to address the $1.6 billion shortfall in the current state budget.
As part of the deal, Rauner has the authority to use $1.3 billion from special state funds to address the budget shortfall. The grants suspended Friday affected programs in the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, and Department of Natural Resources.
Some of the more than 30 programs affected by the governor’s action include $6.9 million that assists public-assistance recipients in paying for funeral and burial cost, $1.6 million for addiction prevention efforts and $1 million for autism programs.
“It was totally unexpected,” Russell Bonanno, director of the Autism Program (TAP) statewide network, said Monday during a press conference, according to the State Journal-Register.
The three months of state funding suspended by Rauner provides assistance for the 75-90 percent of TAP clients whose Medicaid coverage doesn’t pay for most services related to autism, TAP spokesperson Mark Schmidt said during the press conference.
TAP was supposedly one of the state programs that would be spared from funding cuts in the budget deal worked out between the Rauner and Democratic leaders.
Included among the suspended grants was $789,800 for Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS (BASUAH), which promotes HIV awareness among communities of color through education, collaboration, and community engagement.
Rauner’s suspension of funding for BASUAH comes just a week after neighboring Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) declared a public health emergency in one of the Indiana’s rural counties due to an alarming number of new HIV cases in the past few months.
Rauner also froze $3.4 million in funding for immigrant integration assistance. He previously proposed eliminating the program in his 2016 budget.
Breandan Magee, senior director of programs for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, told the Chicago Tribune that 102,000 documented immigrants were assisted in 2014 by organizations affected by Rauner’s freeze.
The funding freeze puts nearly 300 jobs across 60 immigrant services agencies at risk. The services provided by these programs include assistance with applications for citizenship, English as a Second Language classes and health and nutrition programs for low-income immigrants.
Magee says that many immigrants who depend on these programs to assist them with their ongoing immigration process, may no longer have the help they need. “There are workshops scheduled for citizenship, applications for citizenship pending, ESL classes halfway through,” Magee told the Chicago Tribune.
The state’s low-income people who rely on the state funding programs feel the most immediate effect of Rauner’s policy proposals, even while members of the governor’s staff are getting paid significantly more than the staff members of the former governor.
The annual salaries of the ten top employees in Rauner’s administration earn about $380,000 more than former Gov. Pat Quinn (D), according analysis by the Associated Press. That amount could have paid for at least one of 17 programs whose grants were suspended by Rauner.
Rauner’s tour of the state concludes on Saturday.