As a member of the Illinois Senate Appropriations II Committee, I literally have a front-row seat in the budget-making process. Over the last two months, scores of department heads, university presidents and agency directors presented their budget proposals. The General Assembly has until May 31 to consider these proposals and adopt a state budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins July 1.
In recent weeks, my fellow committee members and I heard budget proposals from eight departments, commissions and agencies. I kept track of the services and facilities in our area that may be on the chopping block if severe budget cuts are made for FY 2015.
- The Illinois State Police forensic lab on Woodruff Road in Joliet could be closed. Local jobs would be lost, municipal police departments and the Will County Sheriff’s Department would have to pay for outsourced lab analysis of evidence, and criminal prosecutions could be delayed.
- Nine as-yet-unidentified state parks might be closed. If Channahon State Park were to be closed, our area would lose an outstanding recreational area, and local communities would lose the business and tax revenue generated by visitors to the state park.
- MAP (Monetary Award Program), the state’s higher education financial aid program, currently helps almost 141,000 Illinois residents (40% of them adults) afford college by covering approximately 50% of the cost of attending a community college and 35% of the cost of attending a state university. Potential budget issues could require a dire choice, either to entirely eliminate MAP for over 18,000 students or to cut the average amount of financial aid by $350.
- The Illinois Community College Board would be forced to reduce state aid to community colleges, causing students and local property taxpayers to carry the financial load. In addition, cuts could jeopardize career and technical education programs which prepare residents for jobs in the 21stcentury economy. Furthermore, economic development services helping businesses grow would be curtailed.
The challenges we face are formidable. I welcome your suggestions as we lawmakers spend this month crafting a budget that is fair, free of waste, and rebuilds the middle class in Illinois.