This Wednesday, January 27, 2016, Governor Rauner delivered the annual State of the State Address to the members of the Illinois General Assembly. The speech gives the Governor a platform to speak directly to the legislature and Illinois residents about the pressing concerns facing the state while also proposing policy solutions to deal with these issues.
Governor Rauner spoke about many subjects during his speech, but he ignored the state’s most pressing issue: nearly seven months into Fiscal Year 2016, the state of Illinois is still operating without a budget and this crisis is devastating families and communities across the state.
His approach in this speech was similar to the approach he has taken during his first year in office. He refused to discuss the budget crisis and the impact it is having on people’s lives and instead spoke at length about the business friendly reforms he believes the state needs. He continued his stance of holding hostage the children, families, students, and homeless who depend on vital state services and programs.
As people of faith, we cannot ignore what is happening to our brothers and sisters. For this reason, Community Renewal Society joined over 500 people in Springfield from the Responsible Budget Coalition to present the “People’s State of the State.” We held a rally in the rotunda of the State Capitol where we called out the harm this stalemate is inflicting on organizations like Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) who announced this week that, because the state has failed to pay for over $6 million in services they have provided since last July, they are being forced to lay off 750 workers and eliminating vital services for almost 5,000 people.
Before entering the House, Governor Rauner was greeted by a chorus of advocates yelling, “No more cuts!” We chanted and sang “We Shall Overcome” while he gave his address and when he was done, the Governor marched back to his second floor office to chants of “Budget First!” The governor hoped he could ignore the budget crisis during his address, but he could not ignore the power of the people that had gathered in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Towards the end of his speech the Governor finally decided to give the budget crisis a mention. He did so lamenting the difficulties that accompanied his first year in office. He said, “All of us in this Chamber had a difficult year together in 2015, as we debated a budget with structural reform. But it is not too late for this General Assembly to make historic progress for the people of Illinois.”
The Governor and legislators may have had a hard year fighting publicly for political points, but the thousands across the state whose needs they have ignored are having a significantly more challenging year. However, he may be right about one thing. Despite all of the damage that’s been done, it may not be too late to make significant progress to benefit the people of Illinois.
That progress can begin with the legislature passing and Governor Rauner signing a fully funded FY16 state budget with adequate revenues that undo the devastating cuts to higher education and social services. Then, the Governor and legislature should pass HJRCA8 or SJRCA1 to give the voters of Illinois the opportunity to vote for structural tax reform that will ask those who make more to pay more for the services and programs our state needs while putting Illinois on a path to fiscal stability. Historic progress is possible for Illinois, but only if Governor Rauner and the General Assembly are willing to talk about the actual problems facing our state rather than ignoring them.