JOLIET – Democratic lawmakers raised the rhetoric Monday against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s reform demands during a Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry luncheon at the Jacob Henry Victorian Ballroom.
State Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, said Rauner’s unwillingness to compromise is the only reason Illinois remains without a state budget, arguing that the Republican governor is using the state’s fiscal woes to push his anti-union agenda.
“If I handed his own Turnaround Agenda to him on a silver platter, it wouldn’t change a thing for the social service agencies [without funding],” Manley said. “His Turnaround Agenda is not the most pressing problem.”
Mistrust between the two parties has tainted progress on critical pension reform and other key issues, several lawmakers said.
Adding to the mistrust is the proposed Unbalanced Budget Response Act – which would give the Republican governor unilateral authority in absence of a state budget to sweep funds to make up shortfalls. State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, said she and other Democrats are adamantly opposed.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said the deadlock is dampening progress on key local road projects, such as the widening of Interstates 80 and 55, and the construction of a Houbolt Road Bridge.
There’s been talk for years about raising the state’s gas tax – which has been stagnant at 19 cents per gallon – to fund infrastructure, Walsh Jr. said. A portion of the state’s sales tax once went into its motor fuel fund to pay for infrastructure, but the state years ago moved that to the general revenue fund.
“We’re trying to get that sales tax get back into our road fund … but again, everything is revolved around the budget,” Walsh Jr. said. “Until that stalemate breaks in Springfield, all the things we’re out there talking about … aren’t going to happen.”
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly in an email Monday afternoon stated the Democrat-controlled chambers “still refuse to do anything to solve the budget impasse.”
“It’s unfortunate that these legislators take weeks off from doing their jobs in Springfield just to spend time misleading taxpayers about the facts,” Kelly stated, referring to the Illinois House adjourning until April 4. “The governor has said repeatedly he would support a balanced budget that includes revenue if these legislators would compromise and support job-creating reforms. But they say no to compromise, no to reform and no to showing up for work.”
The budget impasse is causing more harm than good in recruiting and retaining businesses in Illinois, Chamber Vice President Michael Paone said.
“The uncertainty is the big thing,” he said.
State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, had some good news: Rauner has pledged to carry out efforts to turn the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet into a facility for mentally ill inmates, he said.
The project is part of the state’s response to a 2007 class-action lawsuit alleging the state’s Department of Corrections provided inadequate treatment for mentally ill inmates. The state and the lawyers representing the plaintiffs reached a preliminary settlement in December.
Operating and staffing the facility will require about $38 million annually, but that money has yet to be appropriated, McGuire said.
“We want [mentally ill inmates] to get proper care so they have a stable care plan upon release,” he said.