Illinois is at a breaking point.
The state's dismal economy and shrinking population are compounded by a staggering debt crisis, including $111 billion in pension debt and more than $6 billion in unpaid bills.
Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed 2016 budget, which he unveiled on Feb. 18, stands as the first plan in over 10 years that puts the state on track to pass a truly balanced budget. As such, the proposal includes more than $6 billion in cuts, which haven't gone over well with some constituents.
Proposed funding reductions would affect programs such as Medicaid (which would come in part from reinstating a review of the state's Medicaid rolls that uncovered 300,000 ineligible enrollees before being derailed by a lawsuit in 2013).
For example, the budget proposal restored assistance for the homeless to 2014 levels. These funds, worth $300,000, had been eliminated in fiscal year 2015 under former Gov. Pat Quinn.
Funding for homeless prevention stayed the same as the previous budget year, at $3 million, as did homeless youth services funding, at $1 million. The Department of Human Services' budget stayed the same at about $6 billion.
The governor also had to address existing, fiscal year 2015 shortfalls in social-service programs, such as the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP, which is jointly funded by the state and federal government, and gives low-income families a stipend to help cover the cost of day care.
When they passed their fiscal year 2015 budget last June, state politicians knowingly underfunded this program.
According to the Illinois Comptroller, in fiscal year 2014, the state provided $312.5 million to CCAP; in fiscal year 2015, the state appropriated $228.4 million, despite telling child care providers to continue operating at the same clip as the previous year. It's likely that state lawmakers hadn't anticipated Rauner would win the election, and that under another term of the Quinn administration, when the state realized CCAP had run out of money, lawmakers could use this shortage to justify another tax hike.
The obvious troubles with such drastic shortfalls have come to a head in recent weeks. Because lawmakers used low-income families as pawns, parents are left wondering if they'll be able to pay for day care for their children. To address these concerns, the governor's proposed 2015 Revised Budget includes an additional $278 million in funding to keep CCAP afloat.
Rauner's 2016 budget proposal is far from law -- any spending plan must first pass the Illinois General Assembly, which will happen sometime over the course of the coming months.
Until then, Illinois will prove a testing ground for how to dig out of debt without undue harm to the state's most vulnerable residents.
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