Senate president: ‘Failure is not an option’

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Senate president: ‘Failure is not an option’

By Eric Bradach

While lawmakers in Springfield continue to be in a state budget deadlock, women’s health care is threatened, homeless teens and domestic violence survivors are left in the cold, Universities and community colleges struggle with funding, and charities have cut staff and discontinued programs, according to Senate President John Cullerton.

“That’s a lot of horrible for one sentence,” Cullerton said to a City Club of Chicago audience Feb. 6 at the University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St. “It smacks you in the face. It makes you uncomfortable, and it should.”

The Chicago-based Democrat asked for support from constituents and fellow legislators to pass his and Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno’s, R-Lemont, now 12-bill budget package, which has been referred to as the “grand bargain.”

Cullerton said the budget dilemma gets worse with every passing day, and the message it projects toward women’s health is unacceptable.

“When a woman who’s been raped calls a hotline for help, they might not be able to do anything to help her find a place to stay or get immediate council,” he said. “Women with cancer scares are told to wait. That’s not how you address cancer. What the state is doing to these women is morally and medically wrong.”

Cullterton encouraged the audience to voice their opinions and provide support and input to their legislators by calling or tagging them on social media platforms.

“If you want this [budget] gridlock to end, lawmakers need to hear from you,” he said.

It is tough to create a budget that everyone could agree on, according to Cullerton. In order to dig Illinois out of its financial hole, “lawmakers need to take tough votes,” he said.

Every day Illinois lawmakers do not pass a budget, the state goes $11 million further in debt, according to Cullerton.

The Senate president emphasized higher education funding because, as the stopgap budget expired Jan. 1, there is no current funding for public universities in the state.

“Those cuts have damaged our reputation and our economy,” he said. “Enrollment is falling at dangerous rates.”

The budget impasse has forced universities to cut counseling and psychological services, which has lead to a growing number of them on suicide watches, according to Cullerton, citing a study by the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.

If the 12 Senate bill “grand bargain” is passed, it would allow the state to pay businesses on time, fund MAP Grants, ensure state employee paychecks and set Illinois on course to a balanced budget in 2018, according to Cullerton.

“If we’re successful, the Senate would show it can be done,” he said.

The budget package includes an increase of income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.99 percent, a two-year property tax freeze, revised formula for funding public schools and pension and workers compensation reform, as reported Feb. 6 by The Chronicle. Other provisions include permitting a Chicago casino and $7 billion in borrowing to pay the nearly $11 billion in unpaid bills.

However, Cullerton said adjustments have been made because of input from other legislators and lobbyists. SB 2, which would have gradually raised the minimum wage until it hit $11 an hour in 2021, as reported Feb. 6 by The Chronicle, is no longer on the table. 

Speaking with reporters, the senator again stressed the urgency to pass the package, and said it hurts Illinois’ reputation.

“We’re the laughing stock of the nation,” he said.

Addressing rumors and reports that he is considering stepping away from elected office because of frustration from Springfield politics, Cullerton said he has no plans to resign; however, the outcome of the budget package may hinder it. 

The Senate president said the Senate will caucus Feb. 7 and will vote as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to present his budget Feb. 15. 

Cullerton said the governor should take notice of the Senate leaders compromises and cooperation when putting the final touches on his budget.

“We must find success on a balanced budget,” Cullerton said. “Failure isn’t an option.”