Rhonda Gillespie

2015 Public Affairs Reporting Program Graduate Intern - Illinois Issues

Rhonda Gillespie is in the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at University of Illinois Springfield and covers state government and politics for Illinois Issues magazine. She was previously managing editor of the Chicago Defender newspaper and a reporter for other Chicago and national news, university and trade outlets. She can be reached at (217) 206-6524.

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quad stroller
Bill Barber / flickr.com/wdwbarber

The ongoing budget clash between Democrats and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has complicated financial planning for non-profit organizations across Illinois.

2014 General Election Total Votes
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Despite overwhelming support from voters at last fall’s general election, an increase in the minimum wage appears to be dead in the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly.

potter
Jaegar Moore / flickr.com/97408355@N06

 Some social service agencies and funeral homes are set to resume business as they had before the now-infamous Good Friday elimination of several state grants.

Gov. Bruce Rauner aides announced Thursday that the state received an unexpected influx of tax revenue that will be used to restore the $26 million in grant suspensions. The money will fund programs such as support for those with autism and epilepsy, indigent burials and utility assistance.

Several mayors from around the state say the millions of dollars the governor thinks they have stored up doesn’t exist. Gov. Bruce Rauner has called for halving the portion of the state income tax shared with local governments, called the Local Government Distributive Fund, and said those governments can tap millions in cash reserves. But the mayors warn that if the governor moves ahead with his plan, vital services — like police and fire — would be cut, and municipal workers would be laid off.

The mayors were at the state capitol Wednesday to lobby against Rauner’s proposal.

Rep. Frank Mautino reviews a COGFA report.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A Chicago community organization is questioning why a House resolution is calling for a probe of how it uses state money. Lawmakers have asserted that the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) got money from the embattled, state-funded Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. But KOCO leaders say the group wasn’t part of that violence prevention program and they are “baffled” at the audit request.

Amtrak
Bill Dickinson / Flickr.com/skynoir

Amtrak officials say they don’t yet know which services would be affected if Illinois cuts its funding. But the rail company says it’s sure there would be some service reductions if its grant is cut by a proposed $16 million.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has suggested the state’s Amtrak operations subsidy, administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation, drop to $26 million from the current $42 million. A spokesman for Amtrak, which operates four intrastate train lines with service between Chicago and dozens of downstate cities, says the company can’t absorb a cut that steep.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

  Officials with The Autism Program said they felt shock April 3, when they were told their state funding was canceled — effective immediately. The Good Friday notice also came to the chagrin of some legislators who said they thought autism programs would be spared from budget cuts.

“I regularly come into contact with 18 senators and representatives across the state,” said TAP lobbyist Jim Runyon. “They had been assured that the autism program was going to be held harmless through the remainder of (fiscal) ’15.”

Organization and business leaders say they were stunned by a Good Friday notice indicating state funding for some programs would be immediately terminated. Democrats say they were “blindsided” too.

potter
Jaegar Moore / flickr.com/97408355@N06

Illinois has until recently paid for the cost of burial of its indigent dead. That changed on Good Friday, when the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner terminated funding for the program.

The $9 million loss could push the cost of impoverished decedents’ final arrangements onto their families, funeral homes or even counties. Funeral directors say the cut could “cause many problems” for the state, which is struggling to fund operations through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Editor's note appended.

Last week’s short-term budget fix underscores tensions between some Democratic lawmakers and the new Republican governor. House and Senate Democratic leaders urged their members to support the appropriations, but many didn’t. Some Hispanic legislators and members of the Legislative Black Caucus voted against the budget legislation, which funded programs several of them said were important to their respective constituents.

day laborer protest
Carlos Fernandez / flickr.com/chicagojwj

An Illinois lawmakers wants to find out whether day labor and temp agencies are discriminating against certain workers. Legislation would require the companies to take daily attendance — including collecting racial information. The data would be used to track which workers get placed and which are turned away.

Brian Mackey speaks with Illinois Issues reporter Rhonda Gillespie about her trip to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

BrettLevinPhotography / Flickr

Critics of Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketable offense consider the bill a first step toward the state making possession of the drug legal.

House Bill 218, introduced by the Chicago Democrat, calls for possession of 30 grams of cannabis to be reduced to a civil — instead of criminal — offense, punishable by issuance of a ticket and a fine of up to $125.

Scores of Chicago-based activists trekked to Springfield Wednesday, descending on the governor’s office, House and Senate galleries and even the Executive Mansion. They wore T-shirts with “We Rise” emblazoned on the front. On the back was a question they want the governor to consider as he makes fiscal plans for the cash-strapped state: “Who will you choose?”

Auburn Ambulance Service

Assaulting emergency personnel would bring tougher punishment under legislation approved Tuesday in an Illinois House committee.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Frances Hurley’s House Bill 3184 would make it a Class 4 felony to assault a paramedic, police officer, fire fighter or other first responder while he or she was on a scene performing official duties. Currently, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

If Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking for a silver lining on his disappointing first round re-election bid, he ought not study Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget. The state’s largest city has some big problems that the governor’s fiscal plans could aggravate.

Chicago has issues of “looming pension crisis in the city and at the board of education, ongoing problems with guns and gangs and drugs, still a feeling that too many neighborhoods are being neglected and there aren’t enough jobs,” Andy Shaw, head of the non-partisan Better Government Association, said election night.

Child care providers who accept a state subsidy are “trying to hold on,” as one provider says. Funding for the Child Care Assistance Program dried up last month. Many of them converged on the state Capitol building Thursday to urge legislators and the governor to fund the program through June, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

The rally comes a day after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner gave his first budget address, acknowledging the costs of having the program run out of money. “Families are worried about how to care for their children,” Rauner said.

Listen to reporter Rhonda Gillespie talk to Jamey Dunn about her story on funding for youth programs. 

Nearly three-dozen non-profit organizations — mostly in the Chicago area — were told Jan. 29 that money they were expected to get as part of an $8 million Youth Development grant had been blocked by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new Republican governor has made a point of undoing as many of former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s lame-duck actions as possible, withdrawing promised funding, blocking contracts and rescinding executive orders.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Nearly three-dozen non-profit organizations — mostly in the Chicago area — were told Jan. 29 that money they were expected to get as part of an $8 million Youth Development grant had been blocked by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new Republican governor has made a point of undoing as many of former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s lame-duck actions as possible, withdrawing promised funding, blocking contracts and rescinding executive orders.

David Ohmer (flickr.com/the-o)

Chicago officials are trying to shore up their bid to bring the Obama Presidential Library to the president’s hometown.