By working in good faith across party lines, Governor Bruce Rauner brought Senate and House lawmakers together to negotiate a fix to the $1.6 billion hole in the current budget. The solution was signed into law one year to the day after then-Governor Pat Quinn outlined his budget plan—which seriously underfunded a number of state programs and services.
In other news, a Chicago-area film studio has returned a $10 million grant after media reports revealed the funds, which were distributed by the Quinn Administration in the final weeks of his term, were intended to purchase property later found to not actually be for sale. The funds have since been returned at Governor Rauner’s request.
Budget fix heads to Governor
After weeks of negotiations, Governor Rauner and legislative leaders agreed to a solution during the week to patch a massive $1.6 billion hole in the current-year budget. The legislative package, which is contained in two separate bills, passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers and was signed by the Governor March 26.
In 2014, Governor Quinn and Democrat leaders knowingly approved an unbalanced budget that didn’t contain revenues necessary to fund state government for an entire fiscal year. The one-time emergency budget fix approved March 26 will plug the hole, while protecting the state’s top priorities from significant reductions in state assistance—without relying on tax hikes or new borrowing.
The legislative package will enable the Governor to move money around to patch holes in the current budget. A program to provide funding for daycare for working adults was the first to feel the pinch, but there wasn’t enough cash on hand to pay court reporters and prison guards, as well. The budget fix plan signed into law March 26 funds the corrections workers, court reporters and child-care programs that would have otherwise suffered devastating shortfalls.
Going forward, the state needs real, fundamental reform, instead of continuing to rely on emergency measures and stop-gap solutions that have dominated state government for more than a decade.
The bipartisan, bicameral process that produced the current budget agreement should be used as a template for future negotiations. Working together, keeping the priorities of Illinois’ families in mind, and identifying areas to cut and reform will be critical to addressing the state’s most difficult challenges: a struggling jobs climate, a growing multi-billion dollar bill backlog, staggering pension debt, the nation’s worst credit rating, and some of the country’s highest property taxes.
Lawmakers to focus on FY 16 budget
With the Fiscal Year 2015 budget shortfall addressed, lawmakers will now shift their focus to the upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which starts July 1.
Governor Rauner presented his fiscal proposal in February, which aims to balance the state budget in the face of a projected $6 billion shortfall—the repercussion of years of reckless budgeting that occurred during 12 years of absolute Democrat control of state government.
Film studio returns grant
A Chicago-based film studio has returned an $10 million grant after Governor Rauner demanded its return. Senator Tim Bivins of Dixon has requested the Attorney General look into the matter.
A March 21 report by the Chicago Sun-Times showed that Cinespace Chicago Film Studios was awarded the $10 million grant by Governor Quinn in December, 2014, for the stated purpose of buying industrial land around its west-side studio facility where TV shows and movies are produced.
But the article also pointed out that the properties may not actually be for sale, and identified several other potential issues:
“ Quinn’s administration gave Cinespace the $10 million without any appraisals to justify the projected purchase prices listed by the studio’s owners.
“ The former governor’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had nothing to show that Cinespace had pending contracts to buy any of the properties or had been in negotiations to buy them.
“ The state agency gave Cinespace the ability to buy just about any land it wants, allowing it to “substitute properties . . . in the event the applicant is unable to successfully negotiate the purchase of the listed properties.” Cinespace would need the state’s permission to do so. It has not asked for that.
“ The grant went out even though the studio’s owners had trouble complying with reporting requirements on another grant the studio had gotten under Quinn. In 2012, the state sent Cinespace four “not in compliance” letters. The state then suspended the $1.3 million construction grant because the studio hadn’t turned in “project status reports” on time — an issue that wasn’t resolved until March 2014, records show. Even as the Quinn administration was sending those letters, the state gave the studio three other grants totaling $16 million. ”
After the story broke, Governor Rauner ordered Cinespace to return the grant to the state, which the studio did, with interest.
The large grant was awarded despite the state’s multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and unbalanced budget. Senator Bivins said the former Governor’s action demonstrated an “utter disregard for the resources provided by Illinois taxpayers.”
Facing a March 27 deadline to move legislation through the committee process, hundreds of bills were considered by legislative committees this week, while dozens more were approved by the full Senate.
A list of legislation considered during the week is available at the “Senate Action” page, where it is possible to search each day’s activity.