By Gov. Bruce Rauner
This week marks the first time in more than a month that both the House and the Senate will be in Springfield for legislative session. We have all been disappointed in the lack of action on the crises facing our state. Now is the opportunity to put partisan differences aside and work together on solutions for the people of Illinois.
In the short term, we must address the crisis facing higher education and social services. For the long term, we must enact a balanced budget alongside job-creating reforms that grow our economy and drive more value for taxpayers.
Numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced in both the Senate and the House that would fund universities, community colleges and the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to ensure no school shuts its doors and no student is financially harmed. I've proposed ways to fund MAP grants by enacting procurement reform. Social service providers cannot survive a months-long payment backlog which is why we've proposed funding vital services through savings generated by enacting pension reform.
These spending proposals aren't empty promises -- they are linked to key government reforms that generate taxpayer savings; and they would provide universities, community colleges, students and providers the assurances they need to plan for the months ahead.
Passing spending bills with no money to pay for them is simply exacerbating an ever-growing problem while giving students and communities false hope. We need to assure taxpayers that we are not continuing a broken system where we promise to spend money the state doesn't have.
Let's consider these bipartisan proposals so that Chicago State doesn't close its doors. Let's consider these bipartisan proposals so that Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Harper College don't lay off employees -- so that IIT students don't get charged for their MAP grants and no social service provider cuts off services to our most vulnerable.
Let's start negotiations immediately -- whenever, wherever -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- on a bipartisan, balanced budget with a mix of reforms, cost reductions and revenue.
We can and should come together to increase state support for our K-12 schools by, for the first time in seven years, fully funding the General State Aid foundation level.
Fixing the funding formula should be a priority; it's going to take time to bring all stakeholders together to negotiate a long-term, fair and equitable agreement. In the meantime, we need to give school districts the certainty they need to start planning for the next school year by increasing the funding level for every student in Illinois while protecting districts from the devastating effects of proration.
This impasse has lasted long enough, but none of us can end it on our own. Only by working together will we be able to enact a balanced budget that makes Illinois both compassionate and competitive for years to come.
It certainly won't be easy, but let's be optimistic and persistent so that we can get this done -- we owe it to the people we serve.
Let's get to work.