Several Illinois Democratic lawmakers again called on Republican Governor Bruce Rauner to break an impasse and compromise on a budget plan that doesn't hurt the middle class, all before a July 1 deadline.
During a press conference in Belleville Monday, Democratic legislators said Rauner's proposed budget cuts would set back middle-class families, the elderly and disabled residents.
At the meeting, resident Tara Miller said she relies on The Autism Program of Illinois, or TAP, to give her daughter the support she needs.
"If the funds for TAP are cut, or if there is a long budget stalemate, the results of it is that you're taking my child's voice away," she said, through tears. “I’m not here picking sides in this political battle against the budget. I’m just simply asking that both parties work together for a responsible budget that’s going to keep these kinds of services available to the most vulnerable citizens."
Likewise, the Illinois Nurses Association opposes cuts and policy changes by Rauner it says "would make it harder for seniors to receive in-home care, forcing elderly residents to seek out more costly nursing home care," according to a press release.
"We have a duty to stand up and stop this," said INA representative Henry Felts. "INA will always look at the threat when it comes to a patient’s safety and we believe the budget shouldn’t be before health. It’s for the well-being of all Illinois citizens."
The Democratic-controlled legislature recently passed its own spending plan that they say is a "more balanced solution" to the state's looming $6-billion deficit. But Rauner said the Democrats' plan leaves a $4 billion hole (according to Democrats, it's $3 billion), that they intend to fill with a tax hike. He said he won't negotiate on the spending plan or possible tax hikes until the lawmakers approve his pro-business agenda.
But state Representative Jay Hoffman, (D-Swansea), said the Democrats' plan includes cuts in the "hundreds of millions range," but was not as "draconian" as the governor's budget. He said the governor's refusal to sit down with Democrats is creating the budget problem.
"We just want to negotiate a fair budget," he said. "The problem is we can't get to the negotiation table because he has a billionaire agenda to help his billionaire friends out...This is an attack on the middle class, the governor’s budget is, and if we were to just go along with it, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror in the morning."
But in a press release, Rauner said Democrats were the ones "sacrificing the middle class in order to protect the political class," and that his reforms will "grow the economy, pay down the debt and end the era of wasteful spending and broken budgets." Those reforms include making workers' compensation insurance less costly for employers, limiting lawsuits and freezing property taxes.
State Senator James Clayborne (D-Belleville) said Rauner is holding the state hostage by not negotiating.
"The table’s open. We’re obviously not going to hurt the most vulnerable in our society, we’re not going to diminish education, we’re not going to diminish services...Let's sit down and compromise, but we should be talking about the budget, not other issues," Clayborne said. "He has three and a half years to talk about those issues and implement those, but we're talking about affecting people's lives July 1st."
After that deadline, the state loses the ability to spend money, and Rauner said he will enact a series of cost-saving measures, such as closing some state facilities, delaying payment to state workers, and cutting spending on childcare and senior service programs.
That would include hiking co-payments for parents in the state's childcare program, such as those for Fairview Heights mom Laycee Thigpen. She sends her one-year-old son to daycare at the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis, where she said he is exposed to "developmentally appropriate practices, learning through play curriculum, and a safe haven while my husband and I work." She said providing young children with early education puts them on a path to success.
"I could tell you that if the budget is cut, then I will have to decide between paying our bills and taking care of my son," she said. "It affects our future...(This assistance) provides jobs to people in community and keeps doors of these day cares open."
Still, some Democratic lawmakers are hopeful an agreement can be reached by July 1, like state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson (D-East St. Louis).
"All of us are in total agreement that we will work through the summer to make sure that we can come up with a budget that will be beneficial to all of us," he said. "We’re going to have to reduce, but we can’t reduce to the point that it’s going to be detrimental to our middle class, our seniors and our most vulnerable population."
Democrats discussed making up that any deficit with tax hikes for millionaires, and State Senator Clayborne also said he had an idea how lawmakers can raise revenue.
"We have some loopholes, corporate loop holes we can deal with. If we can address that, it will add additional revenue," he said. "If the people in our society are going to hurt, then as (Rauner) said in his campaign, everybody has to sacrifice. But certain people, we're not going to allow to suffer."