Senate President Calls for Bipartisan Budget
Updated: Tuesday, February 18 2014, 03:35 PM CST
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton is calling for help from Republicans to pass a budget this spring.
At a morning press conference, he said the state faces a $2.9 billion budget hole from required increases in spending and reductions in revenue, including the scheduled drop in income tax rates.
He said the majority of the budget is either mandated by law or court order, so that would leave only $11 billion in programs that could be cut.
That could mean a 27 percent cut in education funding.
"The money for higher ed includes money for scholarships, the MAP program," said Cullerton. "A 27 percent cut would result in 45,000 college students losing their scholarships, and impose double digit tuition increases."
Not surprisingly, that's not welcome news for UIS students.
"I think that's really bad," said UIS freshman Rona Taylor. "Because if I didn't have scholarships I wouldn't be at this school right now."
"You want opportunities," said junior Nick Singh. "And if there's less opportunity, then you won't be motivated to come here."
Cullerton says the answer to fixing the budget requires bipartisan support.
That is an idea that sounds good to anyone.
"Yeah, definitely," said freshman Marissa Ferris. "That would be the best solution."
"They gotta just try and help students out, by just pursuing their degree or whatever, I think to help the state," junior Dez Bah said.
In that vein, Cullerton says he's inviting all senators, Democrats and Republicans, to budget hearings that begin Wednesday.
"We want to work together, with Republicans," said Cullerton. "In the past we have not had their support, on budgets, everything else they've worked on, but I'm eager to work with them this year."
But many Senate Republicans would say they haven't supported the budgets because they were left out of the process, and didn't even see them until it was time to vote.
"That's the way it pretty much has worked in the three years that I have been here so far," said Republican Sen. Sam McCann. "I hope it doesn't work that way this year. I would very much like to join with the president in and every Democrat and every Republican here to solve the problems that face Illinois."
Even optimistic young college students may not have much faith in Illinois Democrats and Republicans working together.
"Uh, probably not," said Ferris.
"You can't take any forward steps," said Singh. "Whatever one party does, the other one is going to try to undo it."
"Probably not," Taylor said.
"Yeah one day they will," said Bah. "But right now, I don't think so."
Cullerton also criticized Republican gubernatorial candidates for not offering specific plans.
"We need to have as part of that debate, what's their solution to this $3 billion hole," said Cullerton. "And they have to be specific, and they can't just say cut everything by 10 percent, and they can't just say, you know, waste and fraud, or Medicaid, because we've already done that."
It should be noted that both Cullerton and House Speaker Mike Madigan pushed through a bill two weeks ago that lets Gov. Pat Quinn push his budget address back until after the March primary.