Rauner commits to education in budget address


One week after President Barack Obama called for bipartisanship during a speech to legislators in Springfield, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner last Wednesday spoke about his proposed 2017 fiscal year budget as the state still operates without a 2016 budget.

During his annual budget address, Rauner urged the General Assembly to end the impasse between Republican and Democrats — or at least give him the authority to cut spending and address a $5 billion shortfall.

“We cannot have real growth without first getting our fiscal house in order, and to do so we must work across the aisle on negotiating a budget that helps small businesses, provides fair funding for communities in Southern Illinois, and protects the citizens that need our help most,” State Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) issued in a statement following Rauner’s address. “This impasse has demonstrated above all the human costs of funding cuts, and we must make sure that subsequent cuts address wasteful spending and not vital programs and services.”

Among those vital programs that will be protected, according to Rauner and State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) is education.

“The Governor was emphatic he would not cut education, announcing his intent to fully fund general state aid for K-12 education in Illinois for the first time in seven years,” Luechtefeld said. “Governor Rauner stressed his commitment to early childhood education, proposing record levels of funding for that program as well. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to fully fund the General State Aid foundation level.”

But wherever funding occurs, cuts must follow.

“The first step in a long journey of turning around Illinois is making a commitment to not spend more than state government takes in,” said John Tillman, who heads a nonpartisan research and education organization called the Illinois Policy Institute. “It is immoral for lawmakers to come back to taxpayers for more money without even attempting reform. Send a balanced budget to the governor’s desk, or give him the power to balance the budget himself. Then start enacting the bold policy changes that will restore Illinois to economic prosperity.”

In language reminiscent of, if not identical to, Rauner’s State of the State address, he emphasized the best route to fiscal recovery on a state level is to strengthen the education system, thereby leading to businesses willing to locate in Illinois for its competent workforce and offering higher pay, eliminating the need for increased real estate taxes because of the increased revenue from greater sales tax caused by increased spending, and even a shrinking penal system due to more economic opportunities for all.

The upward spiral of economic benefits caused by quality education has no limit to Rauner.

But getting the legislature to fully fund education for the first time in seven years could be a battle, as members of the Democrat leadership continue to maintain that Chicago Public Schools should get more money before downstate and suburban schools receive funding, according to Luechtefeld.

In the meantime, a more direct route to improving the business economy is being called for by Illinoisans everywhere.

“Countless Illinois businesses, services and citizens have been hurt by their government failing to enact a budget, and we cannot let this impasse continue to damage the long-term economic strength of our state,” Costello said. “I remain committed to bipartisan compromises that protect Southern Illinois and grow our region’s economy.”

Todd Malsch, chief executive officer of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“Structural changes, even a couple of them, will help grow our economy and bring in more revenue and that must be a reality this year.”

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