Senate president slams Rauner’s proposed state budget

SHARE Senate president slams Rauner’s proposed state budget

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton talks to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle after addressing the City Club of Chicago on Monday. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Monday ripped Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed state budget as “unworkable” and “unconscionable,” saying despite Rauner’s public assurances, Democrats see a proposal far from balanced, with a gaping $2.2 billion hole.

That budget gap, Cullerton said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago, is created by assumed pension savings that Rauner is counting on and already spending, despite the fact that pension-reform legislation is currently bogged down in litigation. The Illinois Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an ongoing lawsuit this week.

“His budget hurts middle-class families. Gov. Rauner sees the budget as merely a math problem. I see the people behind those numbers, people struggling to get ahead,” Cullerton, who leads the Democrat-controlled Senate,  said, as he one-by-one ran through Rauner’s proposed slashes to health and human services, foster care, higher education and transportation programs.

“I probably could have saved a lot of time and simply told you who’s not hurt in this budget. There’s the wealthy. And then there’s the corporations. The only cuts they received were to their tax rates. This budget is not the shared sacrifice he promised in his inauguration speech,” Cullerton said.

Rauner’s Feb. 18 budget called for $6.7 billion in cuts, gutting funding for human services, including $1.5 billion in Medicaid funding, $82 million in mental-health services and a slew of programs for the state’s special-needs population.

It also called for about $600 million in cuts to local governments and another $387 million in cuts to higher education, while boosting funding for education and child care assistance programs.

A Rauner spokesman later shot back at the Senate president, accusing Cullerton of trying to undermine what the governor’s office maintains are ongoing negotiations.

“President Cullerton has met with the governor repeatedly and has had every opportunity to discuss any issue he wants, including the ongoing negotiations between his office and the governor’s office over the $1.6 billion budget hole Gov. Rauner inherited,” said his spokesman Lance Trover. “It’s unclear why President Cullerton seems intent on undermining a bipartisan agreement to clean up the fiscal mess that Senate Democrats created.”

In his speech, Cullerton said Rauner’s budget clearly is the effort of a newbie, adding that it has a long way to go before the House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats, can even begin negotiations with him over it.

“To be fair, there were some bright spots in the governor’s budget. For instance, Gov. Rauner fully embraces President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It’s a bold move given that so many of his GOP counterparts are talking about repealing Obamacare should they end up in the White House,” Cullerton said. “And I applaud the governor for making early childhood, elementary and high school education a priority. He proposed a nearly $500 million increase in education funding. He didn’t tell you how he pays for it.”

While the governor has maintained confidence his budget is moving along, Cullerton stressed he and House Majority leader Mike Madigan are still waiting for Rauner to submit a balanced budget proposal that doesn’t count on the $2.2 billion in assumed pension savings.

“Gov. Rauner proposes sweeping cuts to existing public employees’ benefits. Then he goes ahead and spends the alleged $2.2 billion in savings to make his budget look balanced,” said Cullerton.

“Here’s the problem: What if it doesn’t pass?” the Senate president said. “The last pension reform plan only got 10 Republican votes in the Senate. It was a similar story in the House. Let’s pretend the governor somehow rallies his Republicans, and he gets it approved. There’s the guaranteed lawsuit that will tie up in court for at least a year. It’s unwise to count on those savings, let alone go ahead and spend them, since you’re not going to get them.”

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