EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (PAI) – The budget standoff between right-wing Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Ill., and the pro-worker Democratic-run state legislature continues with no sign of an end, and the bad results are starting to show up all over the state, especially in the Metro East area.
Some good news is that Rauner on Aug. 20 signed off on SB 2042, a law that at least lets Illinois to use $4.8 billion in federal funding already allotted to it. That should relieve some areas of state spending. But many others – and people who need them-are left in limbo.
Also on the plus side is that state senate Democrats overrode Rauner’s veto of a bill to require arbitration instead of a lockout or strike if contract negotiations with state workers reach impasse. Those workers have been without a contract since July 1. The override vote went to the House, where it failed by three votes on Sept. 9. All 68 House Democrats present voted for it, but three were absent, so it failed. The GOP minority voted to uphold the veto.
“Day in and day out, public service workers in state government keep us safe, care for veterans, protect kids and much more,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of the largest union of state employees, AFSCME Council 31, which represents at least 35,000 state workers. “State employees don’t want to be forced out on strike, but we’re determined not to let Rauner undercut workers’ rights, jeopardize workplace safety or threaten the economic security of working families.”
Like other right-wing Republican governors nationwide, Rauner is aggressively trying to impose an anti-worker agenda on the Land of Lincoln, even to the extent that he won’t compromise on the state budget, which was due this past July 1. Many agencies aren’t funded.
The difference in Illinois is the legislature isn’t willing to go along with him. One Rauner scheme, a local so-called right-to-work plan, was shot down in the state House earlier this year, 72-0, for example. All but one House Republican abstained. The dissenter voted with the Democrats.
Some Illinois voters – particularly retirees – may be wishing they had not been so willing to support Rauner in the last election, said David Hayes, retirees’ representative to the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor. Madison County is across the Mississippi from St. Louis.
“I think they’re starting to realize now that the rhetoric Rauner put out about saving the state of Illinois really means that he’s going to save it on their backs – because these senior citizens groups and their centers are the first ones he’s shooting at,” Hayes said.
“A few of them have come up and told me, ‘Dave, I bought that story about how he’s going to save us, and now he’s hurting us.’ “
Here are some of the casualties of Rauner’s budgetary war on the people of Illinois:
Low-income, employed people – the working poor – can no longer get state help to pay for their child care after eligibility requirements were increased, leaving about 90 percent of the previous recipients ineligible. As a result, they have to stay home to watch the kids and quit their jobs, making them more dependent or even, in some cases, homeless. An estimated 5,000 families and 9,000 children are affected.
Illinois drivers continue to pay the state gasoline tax whenever they fill up their cars, but the money is not available to municipalities that need to repair roads.
The state has failed to pay service providers’ bills for 10,000 people with developmental disabilities, forcing them to sue in federal court to have the state held in contempt of court. The state lately agreed to release $71 million in payments but still owes $500 million in back bills overall.
Home services are a net gain to taxpayers because it costs less to send home services providers than to place the recipients, disabled people up to age 60, into institutions. But Republicans want to raise the eligibility criteria, called Determination of Need or “DON,” to exclude many current recipients and force them into institutions.
The Meals on Wheels program in East St. Louis, federally funded, had to quit delivering meals as of Aug. 3, affecting some 300 senior citizens in the region because the state has failed to appropriate the federal money.
Rauner is closing the World Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta, just 10 years old and built to generate tourism and house the Grand American World Trapshooting Championship, which generates $10 – $12 million a year in local business. State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Red Bud, has been campaigning to prevent the closure, with help from the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council. But the nine employees are to be laid off Sept. 30.
LINC Inc., the agency in Swansea that helps people with disabilities remain independent, has been having to lay off workers, some of them disabled, for lack of funding from the state, and making it harder for clients to get needed services. Many from other service providers face the same problem.
This problem is exemplified by the Monroe-Randolph Transit District, which serves a large rural south and east of Belleville and has now ceased operations indefinitely. The district provides transportation for workers to get to jobs, schoolchildren to get from day care to school and senior citizens going to medical appointments including dialysis. Instead, 20 employees are being laid off.
Carl Green is the St. Louis Labor Tribune’s Illinois Correspondent