Medicaid, education must be key budget planks, former senator says
Lawmakers in Springfield hammering out the so-called Grand Bargain need to restore the faith of business in Illinois, a former state senator turned technology and manufacturing advocate said during a recent Chicago-based radio talk show appearance.
"What we need to believe is that in that horizon of five-to-10 years, that the boat is going to bob back up," Republican Steve Rauschenberger, now Technology & Manufacturers Association of Illinois president, said during a recent edition of Illinois Rising. "Manufacturers in the state of Illinois have been paying their fair share of taxes for the last 50 years and we don't shirk that."
Illinois businesses long have paid payroll taxes, property taxes and have supported workers' compensation and employment security systems, Rauschenberger said. "We're willing to pay our fair share, but we've got to believe it's not lining the pockets of the hospitals and the school districts. We've got to believe that we're going to see the beginning of the end of patronage in some of these systems. And, lastly, we've got to believe, somehow, that they've got their arms around their pension prices. If those pieces aren't in there, then the taxes are just going to fund a dysfunctional system and we'll be right back in the same place in three years."
The Grand Bargain, a budget deal announced by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) in January but that has been in limbo for the past few weeks, needs to include a broad range of reforms, Rauschenberger said.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has been pushing the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for a budget with more reforms. A review by Rauner's office of an earlier version of the Grand Bargain found the Senate plan would leave Illinois with a $4.3 billion deficit. Lawmakers are debating about a deadline for reaching the final version of a budget deal, though it looks like any such deal may be dead at this time.
In February the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed piece saying the Grand Bargain remains a no-go. Some have speculated the deal cannot even garner enough support among Democrats to pass the state Senate, much less the House.
Rauner also has said he wants to spend more on K-12 education, tying it to reforms, but Rauschenberger said that's the wrong way to go.
"I think he's making a terrible mistake," Rauschenberger said. "I just have to say that. It should not be about education funding, it should be about education spending. We ought to be insisting that the money is spent in ways that it helps children and advances families in the state of Illinois. This ought not to be about fulfilling union contracts, making sure that superintendents can build the buildings they want. That's what is taking place in the state of Illinois."
There is no shortage of money in Illinois' K-12 system, Rauschenberger said.
"You can argue the state of Illinois is a smaller contributor to school funding in the state of Illinois but there's no shortage of cash, we're still ninth or 10th in the nation for spending per K-12 student," he said. "It's just not being spent well."
Education and Medicaid are the two planks of reform that should be included in whatever Grand Bargain lawmakers eventually hammer out, Rauschenberger said.
"Educational hope has got to be part of the package," he said. "I think a real, fundamental reform of what's happening in the Medicaid program has got to be part of this package. As hospitals continue to cry poor, they continue to build additions and new buildings, so somebody is making money out there. So this idea that the Medicaid program is sacrosanct, that you can't change the rates we're paying, is a fundamental mistake. If you don't bend the cost curve on K-12 education and on Medicaid, you can't really fix the problems in the state of Illinois. Those are two planks."