Daniel Biss: Illinois might not see a budget until November 2016


Erica Snow/The Daily Northwestern

State Sen. Daniel Biss talks with constituents after a town hall meeting at the Levy Center on Thursday night. At the meeting, he addressed concerns about the five-month budget crisis and the impact on higher education.

Erica Snow, Reporter

Illinois Budget Crisis

Illinois has operated without a budget for more than five months, a trend that could continue until the November 2016 election, state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said at a town hall meeting Thursday night.

About 100 community members attended the meeting at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., to voice concerns about the lack of a budget since July 1, when Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois General Assembly failed to approve one by the beginning of the state’s fiscal year.

The gridlock in Springfield is strong enough that constituents may have to wait nearly a year to see a budget passed, Biss said.

“The human service provision network has just been shredded,” Biss told The Daily. “There are more people sleeping on the streets tonight because of this budget failure.”

Since July, Biss said it has been impossible to fund organizations like domestic violence shelters, mental health institutions and public universities because a budget does not exist for public services. The consequences, Biss warned, are devastating.

“Rauner is, in effect, waging war on the poorest and neediest and most vulnerable people in the state,” Gail Siegel, former communications director for Cook County Clerk’s Office, told The Daily after the meeting. “It’s time to stop holding them hostage and get down to the real challenge facing Illinois, which is finding more revenue, creating a fair tax system and taxing wealthy corporations.”

At a news conference on Monday, Rauner said the severity of Illinois’ financial troubles requires deeper structural reforms. Before meeting behind closed doors with top Illinois politicians, Rauner emphasized government reforms in addition to economic remedies such as a statewide property tax freeze.

“As part of our discussions, let’s restore good government and good government confidence,” Rauner said.

At the root of the state’s financial woes, Biss emphasized that Illinois has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. As of January 2015, individual income tax in Illinois is a flat 3.75 percent, lowered from previous years at 5 percent.

Mary Bennett works for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and favors a progressive income tax to raise revenue, she told The Daily after the event. She said local governments have “creative ways” of generating revenue such as privatizing parking meters.

Community members also asked questions about the possibility of a personality conflict between Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and how it could worsen the gridlock.

“Underlying this is a clash of values,” Biss said. “Eventually everyone’s going to have to get over themselves and work something out.”

Public universities like those within the University of Illinois system are suffering because the state does not reimburse them for tuition paid by the state for students receiving federal grants, Biss said. Although universities may not publicly say they have not received federal funding for the next semester, the absence of a budget places a large financial strain on the universities, he added.

Biss suggested a “short-term budget patch” until Illinois can take a look at a progressive income tax for a long-term solution. The state is not tied to a flat-rate income tax forever, Biss told The Daily.

“A progressive income tax is the most important solution that nobody is talking about in public,” Siegel said. “It will require changing the constitution of the state, so it seems hard to address, but we have to take on the tough questions. If it means changing the constitution, that’s just what has to happen.”

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