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Relief for budget impasse comes with uncertainty

Groups of individuals living in Lockport affected most by the Illinois budget impasse will soon find relief, but it remains unclear whether the end is near.

New developments in the budget impasse reveal that $5 billion dollars in federal tax income is being sent to the State’s bank accounts after officials passed a bill, according to Sen. Pat McGuire; D-Crest Hill.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Senate and the House unanimously motioned to pass Senate Bill 2402 with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s approval, authorizing the State to allot portions of monies toward groups of individuals, including those with developmental and mental disabilities; low-income college students and parents seeking subsidized childcare services, among others as well.

The State is entering its third month without an agreed upon fiscal budget leaving local organizations, such as Cornerstone Services and Stepping Stones, to experience a number of emotions.

Pete McLenighan, executive director at Stepping Stones, said during a Lockport Town Hall meeting Sept. 2, he’s “virtually risking the fiscal solvency of the organization” to make ends meet.

“We have a contract (with the Department of Human Services) to start with that has drastic cuts,” he said, noting that Stepping Stones is faced with nearly 40 percent reductions in revenue.

Services and personnel made available at Stepping Stones have been reduced and play a part in why there’s a waiting list for treatment.

“This is unprecedented. I’ve been executive director for 31 years,” McLenighan said. “I’ve seen 31 budget cycles.

He added that tightening of the fiscal budget is nothing new; however, there have been significant reductions made over the past five years.

Still, McLenighan said there is a fear that Illinois will run out of money if State officials cannot establish a clearer negotiating process.

McGuire said he’s hopeful the State won’t run out of funding, noting that both sides acknowledge the needs of the people exceed the currently available revenue.

“They are getting State funds due to the Medicaid agreement and due to the release of funds, they’re still short,” he said.

He added that it’s important to note that 80 percent of the fiscal budget is happening even after Rauner vetoed 19 out of 20 bills, that would have authorized the State’s fiscal budget, without reviewing them line-by-line.

While Rauner rejected proposed bills, legislative action is not necessary when it comes to above-the-line non-discretionary funds, such as bonds and pensions; court-ordered decrees to pay State employees and agreements by State and federal government to cover Medicaid beneficiaries.

He added that when it comes to those affected most by the budget impasse, there is hope for a breakthrough to take place by January, but he seemed uncertain in predicting the end.

McGuire said there are two scenarios that may be transpiring.

If democrats cast a vote, they would go to collective bargaining unions and ask for extensions to lessen disruptions to the primary elections.

If republicans were voting—perhaps in a pro union way—they would work to avoid endangering the primary.

“This is obviously a dangerous situation because having 80 percent of your budget sounds good, but these individuals and groups which remain unfunded are the most vulnerable,” McGuire said.

A number of organizations, including the Civic Federation, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Tax Payers’ Federation of Illinois and the Tax Foundation and Tax Payers’ Federation of Illinois, among others have outlined analyses and presentations regarding Illinois’ fiscal budget.

McGuire said the report by the State Budget Crisis Task Force is the best he has seen, noting that it asserts how Illinois has one of the narrowest sales tax rates in the country – we tax so few services.

“The way to achieve property tax relief is through modernizing the State’s taxes to achieve fairer balanced taxes,” he said. “If we would modernize our tax structure as Iowa has done, we’d have $4 billion more in revenue. If we would modernize it to match Wisconsin, we would have about $8 billion more in revenue.”

McGuire added that it’s important that we model our tax structure after Iowa and Wisconsin not California or Massachusetts.

He said it’s agonizing seeing the needs of people who are most vulnerable not being fully met.

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