As Pritzker Announces Budget Cuts, Southwestern Illinois Agencies Brace For Impact
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
State agencies in Southwestern Illinois are bracing for budget cuts after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a first round that will affect public safety and social services, with promises of more to come.
The more than $700 million in reductions are only a start in filling a $3.9 billion deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Roughly $2 billion of Illinois’ deficit is attributable to tax revenue lost in the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor had hoped to make up the shortfall with a new graduated income tax. Voters last month rejected that proposal, which was expected to generate $3 billion annually.
Having gotten wind of possible cuts months ago, southwestern Illinois agencies have already started planning for more bad news in the near future.
It won’t be the first time Renae Storey, vice president for the southern region of Children’s Home and Aid, will have worked through a fiscal crisis. She remembers the budget impasse under Gov. Bruce Rauner and how it affected the statewide child and family advocacy nonprofit.
“We know that cutting any part of human services will be detrimental to families, and it will be detrimental to the state budget because more costly alternatives would probably happen later,” Storey said.
One of the organization’s programs, for instance, has reduced the number of St. Clair County children going into the juvenile justice system each year from 90 to 10 since 2005. The cost of one year in juvenile corrections costs $160,000, whereas Redeploy Illinois costs roughly $10,000 per child.
“We know there may be cuts coming, but we’d like to have a seat at the table so we can help inform the lawmakers and the governor’s office about how important these services are,” Storey said.
James Kellermann is executive director of Call for Help, Inc., a nonprofit that helps people in crisis, whether it’s from sexual assault, homelessness or mental health. He says his agency, which relies in part on state money for the Department of Human Services, has worked harder than ever to prepare for cuts.
“Any funding cuts can hurt in many different ways,” Kellermann said. “ ... This past year we have been anticipating such an event even more so due to the heavy spending in Illinois state and the U.S. federal government incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
If government money doesn’t come through as hoped, the organization will rely more on donations, fundraising and grants from other nonprofits.
Pritzker and Republican leaders traded insults after the governor announced the cuts Tuesday. Pritzker blamed Republicans for defeating the graduated income tax, which supporters called the “fair tax.” The GOP said the governor was unfairly blaming others for the state’s mess.
The bickering doesn’t help David Sharar, CEO of Chestnut Health Systems, which provides treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse with support from the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) and other sources. Demand for the nonprofit’s services has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharar said.
“The financial impact from the pandemic was expected and will be massive,” he added. “Since the fair tax amendment did not pass, providers have been bracing for this announcement. We simply don’t know yet how either rates or DHS grants will be affected by the cuts.”
Furloughs and hiring freezes are also on the table for all agencies, according to the governor’s plan. His office will negotiate with unions on $75 million in cuts to personnel costs.
The department of corrections is relying on reduced prison populations to account for part of a roughly $71.1 million impact on public safety agencies.
With more than 10,000 fewer incarcerated people in Illinois prisons, the department identified $25.4 million in savings. But the remainder will come from $45.6 million in operational and grant reductions to corrections, Illinois State Police and other agencies.
Illinois plans to borrow $2 billion from a federal program to help states bridge budget gaps caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unless Congress comes through with a stimulus package that includes a bail out for states and local governments, Illinois will still be facing a $1.2 billion deficit when the governor’s cuts and the borrowing are taken into account.
Kelsey Landis is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.