SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed 2018 budget would eliminate or significantly cut funding in at least 40 areas, a new analysis finds.
Those include after-school programs, immigrant services and mass-transit subsidies, according to the Associated Press analysis.
Still, those cuts collectively would result in only $242 million in savings — one-half of 1 percent of what the state government spends in a year.
That illustrates how much more cutting would need to be done to make a real difference for the state, whose financial crisis has worsened over the course of a two-year stalemate between the first-term governor and legislators led by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
Democrats controlling the Legislature have stalemated with Rauner over how to drag the state out of a $5 billion deficit and get on top of $13 billion in past-due bills.
“We need to look to programs that serve the most vulnerable and to programs that serve the entire state instead of a specific geographic region, a specific population or a specific vendor,” Rauner budget director Scott Harry said of the approach to cuts. “They’re important programs. But tough choices have to be made.”
More than half of the cuts — $125 million — would be to already-battered university budgets. Among the others in the budget plan that Rauner proposed two months ago but which so far has gone nowhere:
MASS-TRANSIT SUBSIDIES — $17.5 million
Federal and state laws require free or reduced rides for seniors and the disabled on commuter trains and buses in the Chicago area, at a cost to the Regional Transportation Authority of about $100 million. The state previously provided a $34 million yearly subsidy before Rauner cut it in half when he took office. The required discounts don’t go away even if the subsidy does, according to Leanne Redden, the RTA’s executive director.
“These cuts to state funding would merely shift these costs to local taxpayers and fare-paying transit riders,” Redden said.
FUNERAL AND BURIAL EXPENSES — $8.8 million
The state pays for funerals and burials of those who die alone or with no money.
Symonds Funeral Homes, with four Chicago-area locations, has received $43,000 this year for this service. Partner Irving Symonds says he and other funeral directors also do other burials for free, but many become the county medical examiner’s responsibility.
“The taxpayers of that county have to pay the bill,” Symonds said. “What do we do with these poor souls?”
Cook County-financed cremations of unclaimed remains have more than tripled since 2014, from 166 to 541 in calendar 2016.
TEEN REACH — $13.1 million
The afterschool program has survived other attempts at cuts.
In Springfield, Tiffany Mathis, who coordinates Teen REACH for the Boys & Girls Clubs, said funding allows the club to stay open late at night.
That’s when Lonnie Bland and Darian Bills, high school seniors, use it. The pair have been going to the club since they were pre-teens. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve benefited from the state-funded program because it allows the club to stay open late, when they go to do homework or escape what they say is certain trouble awaiting them on the street.
They say they’ve learned lessons at the club, such as how to settle an argument on the basketball court with free-throws.
Bland said he’s learned from the club what to do when he encounters illicit drugs on the street. “I walk the other way,” he said.
“We leave all the violence on the outside,” Bills said.