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Local legislators share coffee and concerns over budget stalemate

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Two local legislators, residents and some community leaders sat down to have some coffee Saturday morning and shared ideas and complaints about the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield.

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and state Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) listened to the concerns of a wide range of issues from nearly 20 people Saturday at the Starbuck’s located in the Stony Creek Promenade TIF District near 111th and Cicero in Oak Lawn.

Burke told the group seated around a table that the largest obstacle is that Gov. Rauner emphasizes that any reforms that are made has to be tied to his “turnaround agenda” that currently calls for restrictions on collective bargaining rights and major concessions by union leaders.

“There are things we can work with,” said Burke, who district includes Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn. “The governor wants term limits. I personally don’t agree but we can look at that. But calling for the end of collective bargaining is not going to happen.”

Cunningham, whose district includes portions of Worth, Palos and Orland townships, agreed and added that it does not help that the governor makes these demands instead of negotiating.

“The governor had talked about shutting everything down if he doesn’t get what he wants,” said Cunningham, “But when you say the government, it also means Misericordia and Catholic Charities.”

Burke said that she and 20 other legislators sent a letter to Rauner asking to negotiate on aspects of the turnaround agenda.

“We will not talk about collective bargaining,” said Burke. “But we will talk about other issues.”

Burke said that discussions can focus on costs at colleges and universities. She said money goes to instructors, administrative fees and intercollegiate athletics. Rauner signed a bill last year to provide funding for kindergarten through 12th grade. The governor has stated that the cost at state colleges and universities are too high. Burke said a bill she helped introduce regarding Monetary Awards Programs, or MAP grants, has since been revised on a couple of occasions and has been vetoed by the governor. A new bill passed through the Senate on March 17 with some additions and the return of MAP grants. The governor has not commented on the most recent bill.

Residents who dropped by for coffee and stopped to listen to Burke and Cunningham asked what tax plans the Democrats have put forth? Burke said a graduated income tax has been talked about, and pointed to the bill state Rep. Jack Franks (D-63rd) introduced.

Franks’ House Bill 4300 calls for the elimination of several employer tax incentives that he said does not benefit the majority of businesses. Some business leaders have said that Franks’ bill would be detrimental to companies and raise costs for employers.

Cunningham said there are a number of plans out there introduced by Democrats. However, he said he recalled being called in for a breakfast meeting with the governor along with other legislators.

“The first 15 minutes he was talking about the evils of organized labor and that concessions have to made,” recalled Cunningham. “I thought maybe he would talk to us and get to know us. I thought maybe he would find out what we did before entering politics. There was nothing like that. There was no negotiating.”

Cunningham is in agreement with Burke regarding the need for MAP grants. Many of these students are from first-generation homes and need assistance, he said. The legislators said if the governor can get away from collective bargaining, there is room for compromise.

“We have dealt with budgets, we have done it all the time,” said Cunningham. “But when the governor wants to tie everything together, it makes it very difficult.”

The budget stalemate has created financial hardship for state universities like Eastern Illinois, whose applications are way down, said Cunningham. Some residents who attended the coffee hour said that Governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar would negotiate. One woman said that Thompson fought for the “Forgotten Children’s” fund.

“There’s a belief that some of these institutions are bad,” said Burke. “In the 1970s we funded mental health programs but that began to change in the 1980s. The money that is cut from these programs mean these people are left out in the communities.”

Some residents pointed out that these people are our homeless. Another person said many of these people are ill and need help.

Burke added that in a couple of weeks, letters will be sent out to families about MAP grants. “The governor wants to increase spending for K through 12 by 25 percent,” said Burke. “So, where is the money for that?”

Burke and Cunningham said much has to be done. Both legislators said the middle class and the poor are suffering.

“A lot of people’s wages are stagnating,” said Burke. “That’s not good for society.

“I wish I knew some psychological lever I can pull to get things going,” added Burke.