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New stakes raised in state budget impasse

It’s business as usual in Springfield, and that ain’t good.

The state budget standoff could become a game of chicken with Illinois parents and schoolchildren if Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Legislature go much longer without approving money for education.

Conventional wisdom is that something will be done to approve another stopgap measure to fund schools, universities and social services even if there is no budget.

But when the Legislature adjourned last week without approving any kind of a budget, it created new worries for any agency or local government that depends on state government.

“We’ve got 28,000 children that we’re responsible for come Aug. 17, and we’re waiting,” Plainfield School District 202 Spokesman Tom Hernandez said.

Like other school districts, Plainfield is waiting to find out if the state is going to fund education on time. The district gets 27.4 percent of its operating revenue from state aid, Hernandez said.

Plainfield can turn to reserve funds if state money does not come through. But it only has enough savings to cover operations for 30 to 60 days, he said.

“It’s not a lot of money,” Hernandez said. “Like everybody else, this is a real issue for us.”

Meanwhile, area legislators suggest the state will ensure that schools get their money, although they also seem uncertain as to how the funding will happen.

Short-term solutions

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said a six-month spending bill is the likely answer.

“Clearly, it’s not the ideal budget, but we’ll fund all services and make sure the schools will open this fall,” Rezin said.

School officials in the western portion of Rezin’s district, which extends into LaSalle County, are talking about the possibility of not opening if the state money does not come through.

Rezin blames House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, for the ongoing budget impasse, however, and blames him for the failure to pass even a short-term spending plan to ensure education funding.

“Speaker Madigan is the one person who hasn’t been engaged in the process,” she said.

State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, blames Rauner, noting the governor rejected a short-term plan before putting out his own at the last hour on May 31, the last day of the regular legislative session.

“The games that are being played are completely and utterly disgusting,” Walsh said. “He [Rauner] changed his mind, which has been a recurring event since he took office.”

Even so, legislators think at least a short-term budget will be passed to ensure funding through the next November elections.

State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, however, said even a short-term budget needs to be examined. In his first look at the governor’s stopgap proposal, it appears that college students would be left short on Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants that were not fully funded in 2016, McGuire said.

But McGuire, too, believes some funding measure will be approved.

“Everyone wants schools to open on time,” he said. “We’ve been told by the Senate president [John Cullerton] to be ready to come down to Springfield when a budget agreement is reached.”

“We are very adamant about ensuring that our schools open on time,” said state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood.

She noted that the Senate did pass an alternative education budget, but “it did not go anywhere in the House.”

Impact on business

Aside from schools, college students, and social service agencies, the ongoing budget stalemate also is hurting Illinois business, said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield.

Batinick said when he ran for office he called Illinois property taxes and the state’s workman’s compensation program the No. 1 impediments to economic growth.

“There’s a new No. 1. That’s instability,” he said.

One foreign company interested in moving a corporate office into his district is looking at Indiana for its factory, Batinick said, because even in their country the word is that Illinois is not a good place to put a factory.

John Greuling, chief executive officer of the Will County Center for Economic Development, said many of the companies that locate in Will County need to be in the area to be close to their workforce or supply chains.

“The concern we have is the companies that are no longer looking in Illinois and, therefore, Will County because of the information they have about the dire straits the state government is in,” Greuling said. “It’s hard to track that.”

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