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Political Disagreements In Illinois Foil Budget Agreement


Interesting moment for the governor of Illinois today. Governor Bruce Rauner is set to propose a state budget even though the state has not had a full budget for more than a year and a half. That is because of a political fight between the Republican governor and Democratic legislature. From WBEZ in Chicago, Tony Arnold explains.

TONY ARNOLD, BYLINE: When there's no state budget it should mean the government shuts down, but that didn't happen in Illinois. Instead, one court order after another forced the state to keep essential services open like Medicaid or foster care. It's been a piecemeal process to keep government running. Social services and public universities did not get a court order, so they're getting no state money. President Richard Helldobler of Northeastern Illinois University says the school didn't get $26 million from the state last year.

RICHARD HELLDOBLER: We've had to guess in terms of what we should do for tuition and fees because we don't know what our appropriation will be if any.

ARNOLD: NEIU is eliminating positions. Furlough days are coming. And out-of-state schools are recruiting NEIU's potential and current students. That's a problem for a school that has a student body full of Hispanic and first-generation students says President Helldobler.

HELLDOBLER: Where do they go if something happens to the regional public universities in Illinois?

DANIEL HERNANDEZ: My name is Daniel Hernandez. I moved to Chicago in 2007.

ARNOLD: Hernandez is 27 years old and majoring in justice studies at NEIU. He wants to go to law school one day, maybe be an immigration attorney, maybe a human rights attorney. But it's hard for him to think about law school or even graduation because NEIU's budget cuts are on everyone's minds.

HERNANDEZ: You can tell by the students interact, you know, the faculty. So it's something that you don't see, but you can feel.

ARNOLD: Hernandez and other students have tried lobbying Illinois lawmakers for a budget, but for 19 months those appeals have fallen flat. And there's been a full-fledged war between Governor Bruce Rauner, a wealthy Republican, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat.

CHRIS MOONEY: Yeah. We finally found something we're really good at - government dysfunction.

ARNOLD: Chris Mooney is a political scientist at the University of Illinois. Rauner says Illinois needs reforms like term limits, lower property taxes and restrictions on public sector collective bargaining. Democrats argue those proposals hurt the middle class and will take the state backwards. Meanwhile, the budget deficit is approaching $12 billion. The state's bond rating is the lowest in the country. Government workers are voting on whether to strike. And there's a legal fight on whether state employees should be getting paid at all, which could lead to a complete government shutdown.

MOONEY: Every day goes by is unprecedented for us. Every day goes by is just unbelievable that this is possible.

ARNOLD: Mooney says the state will one day have a budget - it has to. But in the meantime, there's no sign Rauner or Madigan are close to a compromise on the budget, meaning more pain and uncertainty are still to come in Illinois. For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold in Chicago.

(SOUNDBOTE OF LOESS' "LOMOND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tony Arnold