With the state budget impasse now in its ninth month, and as social service providers and higher education institutions struggle to stay afloat financially as a result, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL,11) drew attention Friday to what he says is the "single largest driver of the financial stress" facing Illinois.
Foster spoke at a discussion in Aurora with state lawmakers and social service providers impacted by the budget stalemate, and raised awareness about the "problem" of Illinois being a payer state.
Illinois is considered to be a "payer" or "donor" state because residents pay more in federal taxes than the state receives in the form of federal funds. Consequentially, approximately $40 billion leaves Illinois annually through the federal government, according to Foster, who is proposing legislation in Congress to address the payer state issue. As of 2013, Illinoisans paid about $1,400 per person more in federal taxes and got back about $1,770 less in federal spending than the national average.
In addition to the state getting shortchanged in federal funds that could otherwise be used to invest in things like education, social services and infrastructure, Foster highlighted other consequences of Illinois being a payer state.
"It drives a false narrative about Illinois' economy, that we're somehow not competitive because of fundamental reasons, like the fact that we have unions to keep pay scales high," he told the crowd at the Hesed House, a comprehensive resource center for homeless individuals located at 659 S. River St.
In Congress, Foster introduced the Payer State Transparency Act, which seeks to shed light on the payer state issue. Specifically, the measure would require data collection as well as an annual report on federal tax burdens and spending in each U.S. state. Such information would help lawmakers learn how funding formulas could be altered, Foster argues.
A state resolution backing Foster's Payer State Transparency Act cleared the Illinois House in May and is pending in the Illinois Senate.
Foster said the payer state problem is a "big issue" that he hopes the Illinois Congressional Delegation can assist him in tackling. He called on Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner "to talk to his Republican friends in the leadership of the House and Senate to schedule some legislative fixes for this."
That request comes as Rauner and Democratic leaders continue to feud over a budget for the current fiscal year, which began last July. Rauner wants the budget tied to his controversial pro-business, anti-union policy agenda.
Democrats vehemently oppose Rauner's proposals seeking to curb the power of unions, a fact reiterated by state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) at Foster's event.
"Those items impact our labor, our hard-working people in this state, and those are core values that we, on the Democratic side, we're not going to compromise on," she stressed.
Despite there being no 2016 budget in place, nearly 90 percent of the state government is being funded during the ongoing stalemate through laws, court orders and consent decrees. Even still, the budget standoff has meant no funding for a range of social services and higher education institutions, creating financial chaos for service providers and their clients as well as colleges, universities and low-income students who depend on the Monetary Award Program (MAP) for tuition assistance.
Before adjourning last week, ahead of Tuesday's Illinois primary, the Democrat-led House approved legislation authorizing $3.7 billion in spending for higher education and social services. The measure is expected to face a gubernatorial veto, should it arrive on Rauner's desk. The governor says the state doesn't have the funds to cover the spending, and he suggested that Democrats were "calling votes on sham bills that can be spun for election politics."
The House is slated to return to Springfield April 4. On Tuesday, Rauner slammed House Democrats over the adjournment, calling it a "dereliction of duty" and scolding lawmakers for going on a "vacation."
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) pushed back on Rauner's comments during today's event.
"Obviously, I am not on vacation," she said. "So, when the governor goes on television and says we're on vacation, it's completely and utterly false. I've been on conference calls. I've been in meetings to talk about the budget to find solutions to that point. And so to immediately dismiss that nothing happens if we're not sitting in a desk in Springfield, I think, is false."
Kifowit also addressed Rauner's "sham bills" comment.
"I don't think that appropriations for human services is any way a sham, and I don't think meeting the needs of our students and our seniors and our individuals with disabilities is any kind of a sham," she said. "So to call that bill a derogatory term, is completely, in my opinion, disrespectful to the whole human service community."
Audience members wanted to know what it will take to resolve the long-running budget standoff.
Foster pointed out that the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry issued a letter last week to the governor and lawmakers, urging for a solution to the budget stalemate, which the group said is adversely affecting social services and the business climate.
"When Republican governors start to hear from chambers of commerce, you might get motion in ways that the state needs," Foster said.