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Governor Rauner, the state government shutdown, and C-U

When Governor Rauner first unveiled the budget-slashing initiatives which make up his Turnaround Agenda back in April, he promised to use the “leverage” of a budget crisis to “force structural change.” Rauner vetoed a proposed budget Thursday, declining to balance the budget through increased taxes or spending cuts unless the state legislature passed his pro-business, anti-union agenda. If he doesn’t get his way, it is now clear that Rauner is willing to manufacture a crisis himself by forcing the state of Illinois off a fiscal cliff.

Although last week’s budget bill was passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, many legislators in Springfield saw it as a compromise with the Republican governor’s policy aims. “Each of those initiatives that were put in bill form were initiatives of the Governor and his Turnaround Agenda,” State Representative Carol Ammons told me Monday, “yet [Republicans] would still vote those down because it was coming from the Democratic side.” In a statement accompanying his veto, Rauner called the proposed budget “unbalanced” and “unconstitutional,” citing a nearly $4 billion shortfall.

Vetoing the budget in its entirety was an unfair and unnecessary move, however. As Governor, Rauner has line-item veto authority, allowing him to reject specific parts of the budget while approving the rest and avoiding a state government shutdown. If the General Assembly cannot reach an agreement and pass a budget Rauner is willing to sign on Tuesday, state-funded programs and services on which middle-class and working families depend may be forced to close their doors.

The effects of a government shutdown could range from the immediate, like a suspension of Illinois’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the shuttering of agencies which provide assistance to the elderly or the disabled, to the more delayed, like payroll due mid-July for Illinois’ more than 82,000 public employees. In addition, the state’s contract with its biggest public employee union expires at the end of July. Failure to resolve the budget crisis could escalate tensions between the Governor’s office and union leaders, making a strike or lockout likely.

In Champaign-Urbana, services for the disabled could be the first to go. The Autism Program (TAP), a University of Illinois-affiliated program which provides resources to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, their parents, and professionals who work with them cannot continue without funding. The Developmental Services Center in Champaign depends on state funds to provide more than 1,110 local children and adults with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, cognitive disabilities and other conditions with Early Intervention programs, vocational training, and other community support.

In the eyes of local families potentially affected by a shutdown, Rauner and Republicans who want to block necessary budget and revenue measures appear out-of-touch and unsympathetic.

Carol Ammons addressing the media, photo by Brian Dolinar

“What I have heard out of the Governor’s office at this point is that he is willing to put the middle class and low-income workers in jeopardy,” said Ammons. Michael Madigan and state Democrats are hoping a  meeting of the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday could help put the impact of a shutdown into perspective for their colleagues, inviting advocates of the elderly, the developmentally disabled, and others who will be affected to testify before the General Assembly.

The most important thing to remember if a shutdown does occur is that not all Illinoisans will be affected equally. Many of the agencies and programs threatened by the budget crisis — including local organizations like the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission or the Developmental Services Center — primarily serve underrepresented groups like the elderly, the disabled, or the poor. If Rauner and state Republicans steer Illinois off a fiscal cliff this week, remember you are fortunate if the shutdown does not impact you. Keep that in mind when you visit the doctor, shop for groceries, or turn up the air conditioning this week.

The Governor’s office can be reached at (217) 782-0244.

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