- Published: Thursday, June 30, 2016 04:00 PM
While we are far from a comprehensive resolution, and while most of the work still lies ahead, this is an encouraging sign, both for the specific progress it includes, and also for the indication that collaboration is possible even in these challenging times.
The Illinois General Assembly voted on a stopgap spending plan that will ensure Illinois schools open on time in the fall, provide long-overdue money to struggling human service providers and protect jobs throughout the state.
The package is the result of negotiations between the legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner. The governor has indicated he intends to sign the legislation and relieve some of the financial pressure that the state has inflicted upon human service providers, schools, universities, community colleges, and others who have been adversely affected by the yearlong budget stalemate. I encourage him to do so immediately.
The package includes the following components:
Human services: More than $670 million for grants and programs not covered by consent decree or court order. This includes money for breast and cervical cancer screenings, AIDS/HIV services, the adult and juvenile Redeploy programs, senior services, homeless services, youth programs, funeral and burial services for the poor, immigration services, minority family commissions, autism services, Teen Reach, youth programs and more.
Human service programs have been among the most tragic casualties of this impasse. Our most vulnerable citizens have been denied critical, often life-saving services, and our providers have been pushed to the brink, in many cases shutting down, laying off staff or eliminating programs. This funding is meant to provide a lifeline to these providers to cover their activities during fiscal year 2016 and the first half of fiscal year 2017.
The resources provided here don't constitute a full 18 months of funding. Instead, they're about 65 percent of that. For providers that have signed contracts with the state, this is helpful but clearly inadequate; for providers that do not have signed contracts, it will at least be a bridge to a saner future.
In any case, we will have to come back in six months and find a resolution for the second half of fiscal year 2017. This resolution should fulfill the state's commitment and make providers whole. It also must include a comprehensive revenue plan that creates a sustainable and balanced budget (though more on that later).
P-12 education: One of the main factors that moved this deal to completion was the very real threat that public schools across the state would fail to open without adequate state support. This agreement includes funding to ensure public schools throughout Illinois open on time and with adequate resources to operate the entire school year.
This includes a $250 million equity grant as well as a $75 million increase to early childhood education. Additional measures would use a mix of state and local resources to provide much-needed support to the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund.
Higher education: We approved about $1 billion in additional support for universities, community colleges, MAP grants, adult education programs, career and technical education programs, IMSA operations and other higher education related grants and programs.
This will accomplish a few things. First, it provides the $151 million needed to pay remaining MAP grants from fiscal year 2016. These are need-based tuition assistance grants, and in addition to being good policy and necessary to enable a modicum of college affordability, they were also already promised to these students more than a year ago. It's essential that we make good on that promise, and I'm very glad that this agreement does that.
The agreement also brings support for community colleges and universities up significantly, and while that still falls short of a full appropriation for fiscal year 2016, it will be enough to keep the institutions up and running.
Capital projects: You've likely read about the threatened stoppage of work on a number of Illinois Department of Transportation road and transit projects. We enacted appropriations for these, as well as to the Capital Development Board to restart a variety of halted projects.
So that's what's in the bill. Let me be clear: This is not a full budget. However, it is a step in the right direction as we try to stop the disintegration of important Illinois institutions, including schools, universities and human service programs, as well as the jobs that go along with each of them.
I think that everyone still agrees that Illinois needs much more than this, namely a comprehensive budget that includes an agreement on tax reform that raises adequate revenue to fund the spending priorities that a huge bipartisan majority has now enacted. I hope we can build on today's progress to move in that direction as quickly as possible.
These two years have wreaked havoc on our state's fiscal condition, on our reputation and on our ability to deliver the services our citizens rely upon. We now have an example wherein both parties and the General Assembly and governor have the capacity to make compromise and set fiscal priorities together. We must finish that work so that we don't inflict more of this same type of damage – or worse – for a third consecutive year.