Rauner’s Budget: What He Didn’t Tell Us In The Address

On Wednesday, Governor Rauner addressed the legislature to lay out his plans for the state’s budget — both for the remaining fiscal year and for FY ’16.

There were nice-sounding things (Early childhood education! Criminal justice reform! Abe Lincoln!) and unpleasant-sounding things (Medicaid cuts, mass transit cuts, pension theft).

We also got a packet with a more detailed analysis of his proposed budget. And it was those items that he chose not to discuss that I’d like to bring to light.

What the Governor didn’t say — aside from, by my count, 14 “g”s at the end of his gerunds (the fake-folksy “cost-of-livin’ adjustments,” etc.) — was that he plans to cut $82 million from the Division of Mental Health. He plans to cut $62 million from the Division of Developmental Disabilities. $27.5 million from the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. 60% of the budget for CeaseFire. Hell, he even cut half a million dollars for orphans, just to cement his Daddy Warbucks image.

I mention these cases in particular because they are perfect examples of bad public policy: they’re both harmful to the most vulnerable members of our society and bad for our state’s fiscal health.

Sure, maybe cutting funding from disabled or mentally ill people or addiction treatment or gang intervention gets us to a balanced budget this year. But without much-needed, state-funded intervention, those people are much more likely to wind up in institutions — nursing homes, jails and prisons, residential care — that are far costlier to the taxpayer.

So even if you don’t care a whit about those in need, these cuts are going to cost us much more in the long run. The phrase you’ll hear from anyone taking a serious look at these proposals is “penny wise, pound foolish.”

Well then, Guzzardi, what’s your big idea? Where should we cut?

Well, frankly, pretty much nowhere.

I believe this budget is a perfect case study in why we need a progressive income tax and an end to corporate tax giveaways.

Governor Rauner is refusing to talk about revenue. And if we don’t get any, this is exactly what we’ll have to do: egregiously deep cuts to services for the poor and vulnerable.

So we have two ways forward: either no new revenue and crazy austerity, or funding for crucial programs and slightly higher taxes for the very rich.

There are hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax loopholes we could close today. A progressive tax that would keep rates below 5% for middle-class families would still generate billions of dollars in new revenues.

That’s money we could use to fund schools, address our pension crisis — and pay for the prevention programs that will keep people out of nursing homes and prisons and save us big money in the years to come.

If I do nothing else this year, I’m going to fight with every ounce of strength for a revenues-driven solution to our budget deficits. Even if I’m the only one saying it. (Yes, that’s me clapping alone for revenue during the budget speech.)

But there are already many of my colleagues who are ready to join me in this fight. And I suspect that as we look closer at the kinds of cuts the Governor is slipping into this budget, there will be more and more legislators — from both parties — saying that we can’t solve this problem with cuts alone

The cost, both moral and fiscal, in human lives and dollars and cents, is simply too steep.