What started off as a positive rally last week to pull community and social service groups together in a collective voice to oppose budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner turned sour during the final minutes of the event.
The June 25 rally, hosted by members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, drew a standing-room only crowd of concerned citizens and advocacy groups at Austin’s Senior Satellite Center, 5071 W. Congress Pkwy.
State Reps. La Shawn K. Ford, Camille Y. Lilly, Pamela Reaves-Harris, Arthur Turner and Emanuel “Chris” Welch were joined by state Sens. Kimberly A. Lightford and Patricia Van Pelt – all Democrats representing portions of Chicago’s West Side and the western suburbs.
Each took time to highlight the various programs that would be affected by Rauner’s proposed cuts, ranging from after-school and summer jobs programs, to senior care and mental health programs.
But as the crowd began to file out after the two-hour rally was winding down, a visibly shaken and emotional Lightford quickly came back to the podium with some unfortunate news: Rauner had just vetoed the budget sent to him by state lawmakers, only a day after signing off on a bill that would provide the funds needed to allow public elementary and high schools to open in the fall.
“At first, it was just a little surprising that the governor would sign the education portion yesterday, and then turn around today and cut the entire bill,” Lightford said. “But it just shows me the selfishness in the way he’s looking to govern, that if we don’t give him everything he wants, then he’s willing to hurt people.”
The move puts added pressure on lawmakers and the governor to get a deal done before July 1, or the state may begin to see some of parts of government begin to shut down.
Van Pelt said Wednesday’s deadline could be extended to Aug. 11 to give lawmakers more time to negotiate a spending deal, but she added some are already planning for the worst.
“We may have a deal by (July 1). That’s what we hope,” Van Pelt said. “If we don’t have a deal, we’re going to buckle down, we’re going to teach our people how to make it through these hard times — which we’ve been through hard times before — and we’re going to keep fighting.
“We’ve already been talking to our non-profits and letting them know it could be a long, hard summer.”
State Democrats – who control both the Illinois House and Senate – have been working together to come up with a plan to help balance the cuts with increased revenue, something Rauner has so far rejected.
Those revenue sources could come in the form of increased income and/or sales tax rates, a tax on retirement income, and/or increases on so-called “sin” taxes for things such as cigarettes and alcohol.
Lawmakers are due back in Springfield June 30 and July 1. In the meantime, Lilly asked that people be ready if further action is needed.
“Please stay next to your phones,” Lilly said. “It is important that we show the governor that we stand together, we are concerned about our great state and we, the legislators throughout the state, are concerned about these cuts.”