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Thursday, April 30, 2015 12:01 am

Cutting to the bone

Rauner’s budget chief says cuts weren’t enough for current budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner
PHOTO BY Nancy Stone/TNS

 

The universe is not infinite. At least, not when it comes to the budget.

That’s how Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget chief explained to a panel of House lawmakers last week that there are not many places to cut the current state budget.

On April 21, the newly formed House Budget Oversight Panel grilled budget director Tim Nuding and Greg Bassi, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, on how money from a $1.3 billion supplemental funding bill the Illinois General Assembly authorized earlier this year was spent.

Rauner’s administration has so far taken a cuts-only approach to the budget, but Nuding told the panel last week that state agencies like Bassi’s were already underfunded, and slashing them further wouldn’t get the state very far.

“By the time we got through all of those areas where we could look at the universe of options to make reductions, it became readily apparent that we were not going to be able to get there on reductions alone,” Nuding said. “The universe was not as big as I had imagined and probably not as big as you would’ve imagined.”

Most of the panel’s questions focused on the infamous “Good Friday Massacre,” when several important state grants were suspended indefinitely by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget for the 2015 Fiscal Year. The grant suspensions came after the General Assembly passed a supplemental spending bill to get the state through June 30, the end of this fiscal year. The suspension notices were issued on April 3, after the General Assembly had left for its spring break.

Many of the programs cut on Good Friday were also eliminated from Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget, including funding for autism, burials for people who can’t afford funeral expenses, after-school programming and welcome centers for immigrants.

Rep Greg Harris, D-Chicago, found the last cut particularly surprising. He referenced meetings Rauner had with immigration groups earlier in his term and how Rauner has been framing his governorship as “pro-immigrant.”

“Then Good Friday comes around and boom… you’re cut off,” Harris said. “How do we go back and explain that at home?”

Nuding said that his office had been trying to determine what cuts would have to be made from the early days of Rauner’s administration, but his efforts were hampered by the fact that the administration had to develop a system for determining what spending was “essential” from scratch.

“No corrective action had been taken by the prior administration, despite the fact that everybody knew there was a huge budget deficit.” Nuding said.

Harris, along with most of the representatives on the panel, finished his questions of Nuding and Bassi by asking for a list detailing how the money from the supplemental funding bill was spent.

Nuding said he would work on creating the list, adding that instead of spending on those programs, much of the money was used to avoid borrowing $650 million from special state funds as the General Assembly had authorized in the 2015 budget.

“So you’d rather just take that money rather than borrowing?” Harris asked.

Nuding reiterated the governor’s position that borrowing in order to fund operations is bad policy. He said that reallocating the funds for 2015 instead of borrowing would help the state avoid a $650 million payback in Fiscal Year 2016.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly better than borrowing.” Nuding said.

Contact Alan Kozeluh at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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