Gov. Rauner says he has plan to stop court-ordered spending, but offers no specifics
By Ivan Moreno and Ashley Lisenby, Associated Press 3 hours ago
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he will outline a plan to get out from under court-ordered spending that's plunging Illinois further into debt during a seven-month budget stalemate.
Even without a budget, the state has been required to continue spending on things such as Medicaid and services for people with disabilities because of federal consent decrees and court orders.
Rauner said in an interview with The Associated Press that getting out from under those will "be a big part of our plan going forward," but he declined to offer specifics on his idea, which one analyst said would require court approval.
The new state legislative term begins Wednesday and the Republican governor is marking his first year in office Tuesday.
It's been a tumultuous year for the wealthy businessman who has battled with Democrats over the state's spending plan. It should've taken effect July 1.
Rauner has said a budget needs to include reforms he argues will help the state economy, such as curbing the power of unions and passing business-friendly laws. He also wants term limits and changes to how legislative districts are drawn every decade.
Democrats, who hold supermajorities in the Legislature, say they won't cave to some of Rauner's demands because it would hurt the middle class.
It's unclear how Rauner can get out of the court-mandated spending, which is running up a big tab on state expenditures. That's because the state is spending based on revenue levels from last year, when the individual Illinois income tax rate was at 5 percent, not the current rate of 3.75 percent. A recent report from the Governor's Office of Management and Budget says if the current spending levels continue without new taxes or the legislature cutting spending the deficit for the fiscal year ending in June will be $4.6 billion.
To get out of the court-ordered spending requirements, Rauner would have to show that the state is complying with spending for services the federal government has deemed essential, like caring for people with developmental and physical disabilities.
"He can't simply say we're not going to provide services people have a fundamental right to," said Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois. Not having a budget will only make it harder for Rauner to show the state is complying with funding requirements, Yohnka said.
"If the governor has a magic wand he could wave today for the state to become complaint, we welcome him to use it. It doesn't exist," he said. "These are hard, persistent problems. You actually have to do it."
Rauner has said he's willing to discuss raising taxes, but only if lawmakers put some of his reforms in place.
"I have to be able to say to you, you're getting value for your taxes before I would ever discuss with you taking more of your money," Rauner said.
Rauner pinned the blame for the budget gridlock on Democrats who control the Legislature and said House Speaker Michael Madigan has been unwilling to compromise.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said it was too early tell how Democrats would react to Rauner's idea of ending court-ordered spending. He took exception to Rauner's comments and noted Madigan has compromised, including as recently as last month when lawmakers and Rauner agreed to spend $3 billion from special funds. Some of that went to emergency dispatch call centers and 52 domestic-violence shelters.
"We have compromised. That's the point," Brown said.
Rauner also bemoaned the volume of insignificant bills passed by the Legislature, referring to the lawmaking body as a "do-nothing General Assembly." He criticized them for focusing on bills that don't deal with the state's problems, including addressing the state's $111 billion pension debt.
Lawmakers passed more than 500 bills last year, including one that Rauner signed into law making pumpkin pie the official state pie.
"Virtually none of them dealt with our problems," Rauner said of the bills. "And I love pumpkin pie, and I'm glad, I'm glad it's the state pie. I love it. But you know what? We have a pension crisis. They pass a pie bill. They don't pass a pension bill. Come on."
Brown also took issue with Rauner's comments, noting that some of the accomplishments the governor listed in a Sunday editorial in the (Springfield) State Journal-Register happened because of his collaboration with lawmakers.
"He contradicts himself," he said.