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Statehouse Reporter Expects ‘Gridlock’ On Budget Cuts

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Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announcing budget cuts at a briefing on Tuesday December 15.

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced more than $700 million in budget cuts this week for the current fiscal year. Pritzker says these cuts are just the beginning, and that he’ll need to work with the General Assembly on additional cuts of more than $1 billion.

Illinois Newsroom’s Brian Moline spoke with Illinois Public Radio Statehouse reporter Hannah Meisel about reaction to the first-term Democrat’s proposed cuts. Some highlights of their conversation are below.

Listen to this conversation here.

On some of the areas the governor wants to cut

“The biggest single item is operational and grant reductions at the Department of Human Services. It’ll be modifying existing contracts and doing a hiring freeze and reduced overtime. The governor said that’s going to hurt. That is one of the state’s most basic functions. One of state government’s most basic functions is taking care of the most vulnerable citizens, and a lot of that case work comes out of the Department of Human Services and other social service agencies like Department of Children and Family Services, Healthcare and Family Services. This is hard, and it hearkens back to where we were five and four years ago during the depths of the budget impasse under former governor Bruce Rauner.

We also have some reductions elsewhere, like at the Department of Corrections. Trying to reduce the prison population is actually something that goes back several years, and the governor also announced that he would form a task force to look at possible permanent prison closures.

And then the governor also announced he wanted a possible $75 million in savings by negotiating furlough days with state employees represented by AFSCME and other public sector unions, something those unions immediately pushed back on.”

The governor’s office distributed a document showing his planned budget cuts for the current fiscal year Tuesday. Gov. JB Pritzker's office

On union reaction to the announced cuts

“Basically, they (AFSCME) called his plan extreme, which again hearkens back to the days of the budget impasse, with both sides calling each other extreme. They said frontline workers, state employees, these are the folks who are providing direct services, or at least facilitating providing direct services to the state’s most vulnerable, and they also brought up the fact that many of those state employee frontline workers have gotten sick with COVID, and some of them have even passed away. They’re saying we can’t balance the budget on the backs of these people who have sacrificed so much.”

On legislative leaders’ reaction

“Democratic Senate President Don Harmon put out a statement saying ‘we’ll work with the governor,’ standard boilerplate stuff there. But Republican leaders said, ‘governor, this is a problem of your own making,’ which to an extent, if we’re going to talk about the immediate recent past is true. But, when you take the longer view, he didn’t create it. Democrats who have been in power (a long time) share a lot of the blame for the state’s long-term fiscal unhealth.

The governor came in, and he had a very rosy first year as being governor, and then basically as soon as his 14th month hit, we got a pandemic. So, it’s hard but as is the saying around Springfield, governors own. Governors own all problems.”

On what she sees happening next

“Well, I see a lot of pushback, and I see a lot of gridlock. I don’t really see a world in which people immediately come together and say, ‘okay, these are the cuts that are realistic.’ Unfortunately, before anything gets done, I honestly see some gridlock coming our way.”

Hannah Meisel is a Statehouse reporter for NPR Illinois in Springfield.

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Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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