Despite Budget Deal, Black Caucus At Odds With Governor

Mar 31, 2015

Gov. Bruce Rauner is seen in this 2014 file photo.
Credit 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.

That comes even though Gov. Bruce Rauner has met with black and Latino lawmakers — individually and as a group. Earlier this month, Rauner invited Senate Black Caucus members to breakfast at the governor’s mansion.

Members of the Black Caucus first lambasted Rauner after his February 18 budget speech, in which the governor proposed steep cuts and program elimination that caucus members said would negatively affect their constituents. Later, Democratic Sen. Jacqueline Collins, from Chicago, said there were trust issues between the governor and some lawmakers representing minority communities.

Among Rauner’s proposed cuts was subsidized daycare for children after age 6 and transitional programs for wards of the Department of Children and Family Services between the ages of 18 and 21. There would also be deep cuts to Medicaid and other programs.

The governor’s austerity budget proposal made it politically harder to fix a $1.6 billion deficit in the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30.* The deal, which sailed through the House and Senate last week with little public debate, has two main elements. It imposes a 2.25 percent cut in most areas of state government, and it sweeps more than $1.3 billion dollars from a variety of special government funds deemed to have “surplus” money. The Road Fund will be tapped for $250 million, and $50 million will be pulled from the Motor Fuel Tax account — among a list of other funds that will be dipped into.

“The sweeps are something which you can only do once. Now it’s done. So, it’s not going to work in the future,” Senate President John Cullerton said. The Chicago Democrat said the governor would now have to present a plan to generate revenue.

The so-called fund sweeps were a sticking point for some lawmakers, including Collins: “The trust factor [is] not really there.”

Republicans urged Democrats to give Rauner a chance.

“I’m asking you to extend the same courtesy to our new governor — who has inherited a mess — [that] we extended to Gov. Quinn in 2009,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, from Western Springs, said during debate. “The circumstances are not much different.”

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, from Lemont, said the budget fix represents a bipartisan effort. She explained that all four caucuses — Democratic and Republican in the House and Senate — had some input into the bills, including which funds would be swept.

“I think they’re certainly giving [Rauner] a chance and I feel confident that he will earn their trust over time,” Radogno said.

'We're running the risk of working with a governor who may not see eye-to-eye on what the needs are, really, in the African-American community.'

Not in that group is Maywood Democratic Sen. Kimberly Lightford, head of the Legislative Black Caucus. She voted against the bills in part because the deal does not bring more money into state coffers. “No revenue was generated to respond to our concerns for fiscal year ’15. It was just cut, cut, cut — and further create challenges for not only child care services but school districts, which will lose funds,” Lightford said.

The budget deal gives Rauner access to $187 million to help blunt some cuts, more than half of that earmarked for struggling school districts. But Lightford, a longtime advocate for spending more money on schools, called it “pretty challenging” to leave it up to Rauner to decide which school districts would get access to the relief money.

“We’re running the risk of working with a governor who may not see eye-to-eye on what the needs are, really, in the African-American community, in the low-income community, in the disadvantaged community,” Lightford said.

Editor's note: The sentence beginning "The governor's austerity budget ..." rewritten from an earlier version. (Return to the updated sentence.) Also, the byline was incorrect on an earlier version of this story.