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Bryant defends budget vote

Mount Vernon Register News

Friday, January 5, 2018  |  Article  |  By TRAVIS MORSE

Budget--State (8) Bryant, Terri--State House, 115
Editor's note: This is the last article in a two-part series stemming from a conversation with State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Mt. Vernon.

MT. VERNON — Voting for the state budget in July was a must, given Illinois' catastrophic financial condition at the time, said State Rep. Terri Bryant.

It was a tough decision, but Bryant said the state's pending junk bond status, rising debt, and depleted reserves were all factors in her support of the $36.5 billion spending plan.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner remained firmly opposed to the budget, as it raised the personal income tax and corporate tax rates to generate about $5 billion. His vetoes were overturned by both the House and Senate.

“As a legislator, part of my job is to protect the citizens of my district and I would say there were so many red flags that went up for this district that to not act would have been, in my mind, criminal,” Bryant said.

The Illinois House voted in favor of the budget on Sunday, July 2. Bryant said the state was guaranteed to go to junk bond status at the opening of business the next morning.

“With that junk bond status, we had been informed that all universities and colleges in the state would be re-evaluated to determine whether their accreditation would continue,” Bryant said.

“Since SIU had already been moved to junk bond status, it was likely that SIU would lose their accreditation. So time was up. You can negotiate, negotiate, negotiate and then there comes a crisis point when negotiation time is over.”

The junk bond status also would have made it difficult for the state to borrow money to pay vendors, Bryant said.

In addition, the state was accruing $20 million a day in new debt that was costing it $2 million a day in interest, by not having a budget in place, Bryant said.

“So getting a budget in place helped us to make sure we were not accruing that debt for future generations,” Bryant said.

The Illinois Comptroller had also announced that the state only had enough money to pay court-ordered payments through mid-August. The state was taking in $100 million a day and spending the same amount, Bryant said.

Plus, a federal judge ruled June 30 the state had to accelerate its Medicaid payments, ordering Illinois to begin spending $300 million a month more, Bryant said.

In essence, she said, the state would have run out of money the first week of August, which means state employees would not be paid. Bryant said her district, the 115th District, has the most state employees of any district in the state. Her district includes all or parts of Jefferson, Jackson, Perry, Union, and Washington counties.

“So that translates to state employees not being paid in August,” Bryant said. “So imagine the number of state employees in this district and they would not have been receiving paychecks.”

Bryant added that the $36.5 billion budget did include $2.5 billion in cuts.

Looking ahead to the new year, Bryant said the state is starting to see new money come into its coffers, mainly from the tax increase. Roughly $9 billion of the state's $16.5 billion debt is being paid, she said.

Organizations in need, like the Amy Center in Mt. Vernon and the Women's Center in Carbondale, are starting to get their funding, Bryant said. Vendors are also starting to get paid, she said.
“Some of them hadn't been paid in almost two years,” Bryant said. “So doctors, dentists, chiropractors are starting to see some of that money.”

Bryant said cuts made in the budget will likely be more permanent than legislators had originally hoped. She said she was glad to see cities like Mt. Vernon and Carbondale be proactive in making cuts and recruiting new businesses.

“So hopefully as we get our fiscal house in order, we'll start to see more businesses moving back into the state,” Bryant said. “One thing for sure is, we've positioned ourselves to a place where our revenue levels should meet our spending. Now we have to make sure that our spending begins to match and actually be reduced to what our revenue is.”