I was pleased to see the Governor recommended additional funding for K-12 schools which included $50 million for early childhood education, increased funding for English learners, full funding for regular transportation and funding for technology infrastructure in schools. Education is the key to a skilled workforce that attracts jobs and stimulates the economy.
The Governor acknowledged the challenges that higher education institutions have experienced in the past two years but proposed only a 10 percent increase in monetary assistance for low income students. He suggested a 90 percent funding level for institutions compared with 2015. Institutions like Northern Illinois University will continue to have significant pressure with this level of funding to maintain operations and provide for competitive compensation for faculty and staff.
Governor Rauner’s budget proposal also prioritized public safety: increased state police staffing, funding for two correctional life skills and reentry centers, fully funding two mental health facilities and support for residential treatment centers. I was glad to see increased funding for childcare, senior citizens and other vulnerable people. The budget proposal also strengthened services for military men and women, $200 million more for the Department of Transportation, and funding for long-overdue maintenance and repairs at state facilities.
The budget included increased investments but also spending reductions, some $3 billion. The Governor, pointing to a $1 billion increase in pension costs, said the state must do something to reduce pension cost growth. He will continue pursuing negotiations with state employees to reduce healthcare costs and bring insurance programs more in line with what average citizens have.
The Governor for the third year in a row appealed to the legislature to work with him for a balanced budget and improvements to the economy. I was surprised to hear him say Illinois has lost over 540,000 residents in just six years. He said people are leaving the state due to high property taxes, lost jobs which are attracted to neighboring state with lower worker compensation insurance costs and a state government that can’t agree on a balanced budget.
I was disappointed to see that many in the legislature displayed signs challenging the Governor’s truthfulness and laughed at his offer to work with the legislature for a budget solution. The gallery applauded, however, when the Governor said citizens want to see us get something done, to get a balanced budget, to change our broken system, and to grow more jobs.
The Governor said Illinois is at a crossroads: we can choose a road to unlimited potential and growth or continue on the road to fiscal disaster. I will do what I can to work with legislators for a balanced budget, for job growth and for a road to prosperity for all.