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State Representatives Laura Fine and Robyn Gabel, on June 5, updated Evanston residents on the most recent legislative session at a community meeting at the Levy Senior Center.
The chief concern for the two legislators, as well as many audience members, was that Illinois representatives left Springfield without having crafted a budget for FY’18. It has been two years since the State government has had a complete budget.
Rep. Fine said that, though she and colleagues had returned to their home districts, much work would take place in Chicago to try to determine a solution before the end of the fiscal year to avoid jeopardizing budgets for the upcoming school year as well as new road construction projects.
“I’m hoping that our appropriations groups will have something to vote on at the end of June,” Rep. Fine said.
She said she suspects many Republican legislators have “been thrown under the bus so many times, they’re fed up,” particularly representatives from college towns that have suffered from job losses as State schools have reeled under financial pressures the past two years.
“This needs to be a bipartisan budget,” added Ms. Fine, who also noted, “As long as we don’t have a budget, we’re continuing to go down the drain with our bond status.”
She said Illinois has about $14 billion in unpaid bills, up about $10 billion from when the impasse began. About 90% of the State’s financial obligations must be met as a matter of law, even if no budget is in place.
Reps. Fine and Gabel noted that, while the legislature has still resisted a widespread adoption of Governor Bruce Rauner’s “turnaround agenda,” the House had nevertheless addressed some individual components, among them bills easing rules on worker’s compensation insurance premiums and allowing for easier consolidation of local government units. It also passed a plan streamlining procurement procedures.
The representatives discussed a number of bills that are now awaiting action. “Many of the pieces of the legislation we passed tried to put mechanisms in place to try to prevent changes from the federal government,” she added, pointing to a rule specifying that, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed, Illinois insurers would be required to cover pre-existing conditions.
Another bill, HB 40, would nullify a “trigger law” that would go into effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the United States Supreme Court. Gov. Rauner’s office has said he would not sign the bill, due to components that would allow coverage for abortions for Illinoisans on Medicaid as well as for State employees, though he pledged to support reproductive-rights while campaigning in 2014.
“We don’t know if the Governor is going to sign that legislation or not,” said Rep. Gabel.
The representatives were asked what Evanstonians could do to spur legislators to pass a budget when their representatives ostensibly support such efforts already.
Rep. Gabel admitted, “The representatives in each district really respond to their own districts best,” but added people should reach out to local religious and community organizations addressing the issues. “I do believe that there are people in every district who want a budget and want it now,” she added. “… People are more mobilized than I’ve ever seen them,” she said.