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State budget crisis centerstage at legislative town hall meeting in Bolingbrook

Bolingbrook resident Steve Prodehl speaks about the state budget crisis during a legislative town hall meeting Monday night at the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook.
Bolingbrook resident Steve Prodehl speaks about the state budget crisis during a legislative town hall meeting Monday night at the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook.

BOLINGBROOK – With Illinois just one day away from shutting down services, residents filled a room at the Fountaindale Public Library on Monday night to air concerns to Democrat lawmakers.

Some expressed concern over what could happen to key state services if a budget deal is not struck by the end of Tuesday, while others criticized lawmakers for not compromising with Gov. Bruce Rauner on his reform proposals.

The town hall meeting, hosted by area Democratic state legislators, gave the lawmakers the opportunity to spotlight Rauner’s recent decision to veto a Democrat-backed spending plan. Although about $4 billion short on revenue, lawmakers argued it’s one option that could potentially circumvent a government shutdown and accelerate talks about needed revenue.

But Joe Nichols of Shorewood was quick to point out the blame should not fall solely on Rauner, who is six months into his first term and blasted the Democratic Party for years of operating Illinois in the red.

“I think, you, the Democratic Party should hang its head in shame. [Rauner] has a mess on his hands, and who created this mess?” Nichols said. “We’re constantly talking about ‘Oh, Rauner’s cutting this, Rauner’s cutting that. He’s the bad guy.’ … Yet we don’t seem to have the money. Well, I’m going to throw it right back in your lap and ask what are you going to do about it?”

The new governor and a Democrat-controlled Legislature remain deadlocked on how to approach a spending plan for the new fiscal year that begins Wednesday.

Rauner has repeatedly said he won’t consider new revenue for Illinois until Democrats are on board with a number of systemic reforms in politics and state government. At the same time, Democrats want to spend more than the amount of projected revenue, arguing it’s to protect essential state services.

Nichols was among the 50 or so residents who attended the town hall meeting, where questions were fielded by state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, Rep. Emily McAsey, D-Romeoville, Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet.

Bertino-Tarrant said Rauner is, in part, to blame because “he chose” to take on this role as governor.

“People are not going to agree with him and he needs to understand that. We’ve said that [state government] is not a business. When you are CEO of a business, you get to dictate what happens, but this is government where things are voted on,” Bertino-Tarrant said.

The Illinois House and Senate are scheduled to meet in Springfield on Tuesday and Wednesday, but as recently as Monday night, party caucus leaders and Rauner failed to reach a compromise during budget talks. It’s unclear whether there’s support to override Rauner’s budget veto – but even then, the issue of revenue remains.

Steve Prodehl of Bolingbrook told lawmakers Illinois can’t continue down the same path with its “crushing debt” and a budget that “exceeds the income that’s coming in.”

“We’re talking about Rauner, but I’d like to ask you: Are you in favor of cuts? What cuts are you in favor of? Are you in favor of raising taxes? Because that’s what we’re going to have to do [to keep essential services intact],” Prodehl said.

McGuire was the only lawmaker who went into detail about ideas for potential revenue when asked. Structural tax reform is needed, he said, noting that a broadening of the tax base – which many other states already do – would provide Illinois with a stable, predictable revenue source.

• The Associated Press
contributed to this report.

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