Rauner budget cuts target working families and vulnerable citizens

by Amy Excell | Feb 19, 2015
The Governor's budget proposals decimate public programs and services and slash worker benefits, but don't ask millionaires and corporations to pay more.

Governor Bruce Rauner said on Wednesday that we must “come together as a family” to solve Illinois’ fiscal woes, but clearly the middle class and our state’s most vulnerable citizens are not welcome members.

During his first budget address, the Governor announced massive, irresponsible cuts to critical programs and public services that will disproportionately harm workers and other groups while his friends in the 1% get richer. IFT President Dan Montgomery immediately denounced the proposals.

Rather than address revenue in a responsible way, today Governor Rauner recommended decimating public services for middle class families in order to pay for massive tax breaks for the very wealthy.

The Governor claims his proposals will save the state billions next year. Among the devastating cuts he recommends are:

  • $387 million in cuts to higher education, resulting in higher tuition.
  • Unconstitutional gutting of pension funding.
  • Slashing health insurance for retired teachers.
  • $1.5 billion in cuts to Medicaid.
  • Eliminating the social service net for foster children, the homeless, developmentally disabled, and mentally ill.

President Montgomery told WGN-TV that the cuts are “unconscionable,” and many lawmakers voiced similar concerns. Sen. President Cullerton told the Chicago Tribune:

“Rauner’s plan includes proposals that will undermine access to health services, child care, affordable college and retirement security for working- and middle-class families.”

While Rep. Greg Harris was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times

“I think the choice [Rauner's] made is to balance this budget on the backs of the most frail, the most vulnerable and those who do not have a powerful voice in Springfield.”

In addition to being unconscionable, some of the cuts are illegal, including changes to health insurance for retired teachers and Rauner’s pension “reform” plan, which would freeze existing benefits that have been paid and move future benefits for teachers, university employees, and state employees into the lesser, Tier 2 pension plan beginning July 1. Such a change is not only unconstitutional, it would cost the state more than our current system, not less.

In one of the few areas where the Governor is recommending additional funding instead of cuts, there is more to the “increases” than meets the eye. IFT President Dan Montgomery noted:

Governor Rauner is painting a false picture of education funding. His proposal to "increase funding" is achieved only by folding in line-item appropriations already in the State Board of Education’s budget. What’s more, his plan still doesn’t meet the recommended minimum level needed to educate our children.

It’s a disingenuous shell game.

But it is no game to Illinois families who would be harmed by Rauner’s destructive proposals. And there are other options to address our fiscal problems.

Instead of balancing the budget on workers and vulnerable citizens, the Governor could listen to Illinois voters, who sent a crystal clear mandate in November to demand that millionaires pay their fair share to support our schools. He could also recommend that we close the loopholes that allow 70% of corporations to pay zero taxes in in our state. According to studies by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability and We Are One Illinois, those loopholes cost Illinois nearly $2 billion per year.

As IL AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan noted after the budget address:

[Rauner] has spent much of his first few weeks on a right-wing, ideological binge, attempting to make his case slashing modest programs boosting injured and unemployed workers, dropping local wage and benefit standards, and attacking state workers and their unions. While this may be a political message he wants to send, it is not constructive in solving our state’s financial woes. These proposals do little to improve our state finances, but will certainly undermine middle class economic security…Now is the time for real solutions, not political rhetoric.