CHICAGO – In the political pendulum that marks Illinois' budget gridlock, the legislature's Republican minority leaders are taking their turn with a $1.3 billion proposal to fund human and social service programs.
The proposal relies on a mix of general fund revenues -- $433 million -- and funds from non-general fund accounts -- $858 million -- but it requires that lawmakers approve a series of pension related measures proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in his fiscal 2017 budget.
That poses a big obstacle for the plan amid the ongoing political divide between the Republican governor and the Democrats who control both houses of the General Assembly.
Senate Bill 3418 would fund seniors in the state's Community Care Program and programs that serve veterans, those with mental issues and developmental disabilities, homeless youth and veterans, addiction treatment, and the Special Olympics.
The proposal comes amid a growing outcry from social service agencies and public higher education institutions all starved for cash as the state's inability to adopt a budget for fiscal 2016 continues into its tenth month, with no signs of progress.
"We have crises cropping up all over the state…human services are urgent to many members," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. Radogno and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, are sponsoring the plan.
"The social safety net in Illinois is at a breaking point," Radogno said.
Democrats who hold supermajorities in both chambers have proposed their own funding legislation for social service programs.
Rauner and his fellow GOP lawmakers have rejected Democratic plans to fund both social services and public higher education, arguing that they don't identify a full funding source and rely on an overly strained general fund that is already at least $5 billion short of needed revenue this year.
The Democrats' plan on social services relies on a mix of general fund support and surpluses in some non-general fund accounts.
The new Republican plan relies heavily on $780 million in savings projected from passage of pension reforms proposed in Rauner's fiscal 2017 budget.
Rauner's proposals would phase in over five years the impact of changes in actuarial assumptions to soften the near-term impact on pension contributions, end the impact of end-of-career salary increases, and shift state payments for retirement contributions for education employees earning more than $180,000 over to local colleges and districts.
Rauner's budget proposal anticipates that the changes, along with pension reforms proposed by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, would save $5 billion over four years.
Cullerton's office left the door open to consideration of the new proposal and said it welcomed Republican participation but cautioned that it raises some "initial concern" due to its reliance on funds that come from pension changes.
"Recent history would suggest that is unwise," Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said, referring to past reforms of the state government and Chicago pension programs that were shot down by the courts.
"The last pension reform legislation was supposed to save billions. It saved nothing," he said. "We'll have to look closely at this proposal."
Passage of any plan that relies on general funds would offer limited help for organizations waiting on their aid because the state is months behind on bill payments with the comptroller's office reporting Friday a current backlog of $7.1 billion.
Durkin also stressed during the news conference growing concerns over higher education funding.
The state's two-year and four-year schools have been hit with downgrades and some face accreditation risks as they struggle to make do without state aid that represents in some cases 30 to 40% of their operating revenues. Chicago State University plans to close early this year.
"There are a range of options out there we should be exploring, and we owe it to the people, and students, of Illinois to have an open and bipartisan dialogue," Durkin said.
But on that subject Republicans and Democrats also remain deeply divided. Rauner has rejected Democratic funding bills because they don't identify funding mechanisms. Democrats are opposed to a Republican bill because it would broaden Rauner's budget powers.