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Local News

Lawmakers, social service agencies react to Rauner’s budget address

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed spending cuts – which he called the state’s “last best chance to get our house in order” – didn’t go over well with local social service agencies, area officials and Democratic lawmakers.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers argued Rauner’s spending plan, presented Wednesday, is well-balanced with increased funding for education and is the “great, first step” toward improving the state’s financial crisis.

The governor’s budget proposal relies on “significant” cuts to Medicaid, along with cuts to other areas, including human services, higher education and local governments. His plan also relies on $2.2 billion in anticipated savings from his newly proposed pension reform package.

State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said Rauner’s inclusion of the estimated savings in this year’s budget plan is dishonest, considering his reform package has yet to be vetted in court with ongoing lawsuit challenges.

Human, social services

The news of possible budget cuts was not received well by Pete McLenighan, executive director at Stepping Stones in Joliet.

The rehabilitation center’s annual budget is already $328,000 below 2008 funding levels, he said.

“I understand the state has fiscal problems, but we’ve already been hit really hard,” he said.

There’s a three-week waiting list for the center’s most intensive residential services, he said.

The governor’s spending plan also calls for elimination of some programs for people with developmental disabilities, including paratransit services.

Pam Heavens, executive director for the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living, said it’s “not good policy.”

“I really don’t think he grasps what everyday people have to go through,” Heavens said. “We will work vigorously with our state legislators to make sure these proposals never see the light of day.”

Rauner also proposed cutting state aid to local governments. That would mean a loss of $54 million distributed annually to the 30-plus municipalities in Will County, said Jim Holland, president of the Will County Governmental League.

It means a $7 million revenue reduction for Joliet. That’s money city officials use to pay for key services, including salaries for police, firefighters, road maintenance and snow removal crews, Joliet City Manager Jim Hock said.

Republicans applaud Rauner

Still, local Republican lawmakers applauded Rauner for his “honest take” to running state government.

“For the first time in years, we have a leader in the governor’s office,” said state Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield. “Illinois chose a different direction and I think we should give him an opportunity.”

State Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, called for bipartisanship over the coming months as lawmakers craft a budget.

“I don’t think it’s a sudden insight to say that the budgets in the past have been reckless,” McDermed said. “If everyone works together, we’ll make progress in solving some of the issues that have been with us for a long, long time.”

Crafting a budget

Walsh Jr. said Rauner’s proposed cuts – which involve going deep into the pockets of higher education institutions – will not fly with the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

“All of his [higher education] cuts mean is that cost will be passed on to students through tuition and fees,” Walsh Jr. said. “This is his wish list. It’s up to us to put together a budget. I don’t think some of his suggestions are going to go very far.”

• This story was changed to correct a budget figure for Stepping Stones in Joliet. The Herald-News regrets the error.

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