After slashing nearly $90M from the budget this summer that would have reimbursed school districts for state mandated transportation costs, the Governor had raised hope that during this November legislative session, the General Assembly would be able to re-examine mechanisms to reinstate at least a portion of this reimbursement.   Instead work today in Springfield did not result in anything remotely close to that.

The General Assembly did approve budget changes late this evening that are meant to avert the seven state facility closures and nearly 2,000 layoffs that Quinn announced in September.

Under the new plan, the facilities would remain open through the current fiscal year, paving the way for the governor’s plan to close some state facilities in what he describes as a slower and more deliberative manner.

“[The legislation] will enable us to create a sensible, reasonable, responsive and effective plan for moving people from state operated facilities into the community,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who sponsored the budget plan in the House. Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the proposal would not put state spending over the caps set with the income tax approved in January.

The plan combines money from the governor’s budget vetoes with cash transferred from various state funds and Medicaid reimbursements brought in from the federal government. The total amount of dollars shifted would be more than $270 million, and a strategy called “churning” is projected to bring in an additional $136 million in Medicaid dollars from the feds.  Just over $200 million is slated to keep state facilitates open. Additional money would be spent on human services and other programs that Quinn and some lawmakers did not want to see cut in the budget that was approved in the spring, including:

$30 million for mental health programs.
$4.7 million for programs to combat homelessness.
$8 million for indigent burials.
$28 million for substance abuse programs.
$33 million for Monetary Award Program grants for college students.

Opponents voiced frustration over the funds that were not restored. Rep. Roger Eddy, who is a school superintendent in Hutsonville, said it was “unfair” that money for transportation, which has been drastically cut in recent years, was not restored when state law requires schools to provide transportation.  Eddy, a  Republican, said the transportation cut hits downstate school districts harder than Chicago districts, which are mostly represented by Democrats. Eddy said downstate legislators agreed to shift money from funds for spending that did not end up in the final bill. “That money wasn’t used exactly the way we thought it was going to be used.” The plan passed with no debate in the Senate.

Kelly Kraft, a spokesperson for Quinn’s budget office, said Quinn is working to avoid all layoffs announced under his original closure plan. However, she said the state might have to work out agreements with unions for employees who have already been laid off. (Note no discussion of any ideas of how to reduce the local impact on these transportation costs.  In fact, officials from the Governor’s Office have stated that busing students is a local problem and should not be the State’s responsibility.  This is another example of an Unfunded Mandate.)
“That, I think, was a great victory for the public that we are able to have adequate human services,” Quinn said. “Think back [to] last summer of how dire this was. We were able to, I think, rescue the people of Illinois from a budget disaster.”

Republican Leader Christine Radogno, who called the session a “mixed bag,” said Quinn should have been more actively involved in the tax plan. She said when the two chambers battle over an issue, as they have tended to do recently, Quinn should work to diffuse the situation and find a compromise. She said a deal was not reached today because of “a failure of leadership.”   A Failure of Leadership appears to be a recurring trend politically, at both the local and national level.  We will continue to work as diligently as we can at the local level to grow our quality programs and do what we can to serve students appropriately.