Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to restore about $26 million in grant cuts

Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to restore about $26 million in grant cuts for services ranging from autism treatment to burial services for the poor after a new revenue forecast estimates the state is expected to bring in more money this year than initially anticipated.

Rauner, Military Trib

Article by Monique Garcia, Chicago Tribune, April 30, 2015, Springfield   Photo by Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune
Caption:  Gov. Bruce Rauner, center, greets members of the Navy color guard as he arrives to meet the USS Illinois crew and its Commissioning Committee in a show of support during a brief ceremony April 1, 2015, at Navy Pier in Chicago.

The move comes after weeks of hearings by Democratic lawmakers to put a continued public focus on the cuts, which the Rauner administration made quietly on Good Friday ahead of the Easter holiday weekend. Democrats contended the $26 million in trims went above and beyond an earlier agreement to cut $300 million and sweep special funds in an effort to close a $1.6 billion shortfall in the budget year that ends June 30.

Rauner administration officials countered they were upfront about the possibility that more cuts might be needed. The spending plan the Republican governor inherited in January was out of whack after Democrats last year approved a budget that didn’t have enough money to pay for 12 months of state government services.

Now the legislature’s bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability says an additional $300 million to $500 million in tax revenue is expected to roll in above previous forecasts, largely because Illinois’ economy is performing better. Dan Long, the agency’s executive director, said the money is a “one-time” bump made available after tax returns were filed, and it appears to be the result of capital gains from the stock market performing better than expected.

Here’s how that windfall is expected to impact the state budget situation:

•The Rauner administration says it plans to use some of the money to restore the $26 million in Good Friday cuts. Aides said providers should see the money within the next month, but not before some programs had to shut down completely, including the state hotline to help smokers who want to quit. Autism treatment programs and one to cover the costs of burying the poor are among those in line to have their funding restored.

•The additional money means no further cuts are likely in the current budget year that ends June 30, Rauner aides said.

•Staying in place will be the $300 million in cuts the Rauner administration and state lawmakers agreed to in late March to fix the current budget. Rauner aides said the cuts will be made because the administration wants to be flexible should other unexpected shortfalls arise. They also say the administration wants to whittle away at a more than $6 billion backlog in unpaid bills.

That means the budget ax still will fall on the state’s Monetary Award Program scholarship, which lost $8.4 million, resulting in 3,000 fewer students receiving tuition help. Domestic violence shelters will lose $419,300 and a program for expectant parents will lose $225,900. In addition, the sickle cell center at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System faces a $500,000 funding cut, while Medicaid health care providers for the poor also face deep rate cuts.

•Looking ahead, the state budget that lawmakers and the governor are trying to craft by the end of May is short by more than $6 billion. Rauner is pushing deep cuts but has indicated he could be open to new taxes if lawmakers make accompanying changes to things like workers’ compensation or curbing union powers.

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