Facing $3 billion budget hole, Cullerton calls for bipartisan solution

CHICAGO - Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton today warned that the state faces a nearly $3 billion budget hole that could decimate school funding, send college tuition soaring and undo much of the financial progress that has occurred in recent years.

“I’m here to jumpstart a discussion on how we bridge a $3 billion gap. I’m here to urge my Republican counterparts to join the discussion so we can produce a bipartisan solution,” Cullerton (D-Chicago) told reporters at a news conference.

By law, the state’s income tax rates drop on Jan. 1, 2015 - halfway through the upcoming budget year. That $1.6 billion revenue decline, combined with increased costs in required programs and services, produces a $2.9 billion shortfall that could force deep cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Those cuts could amount to a 27 percent across-the-board cut to the few parts of the state budget that aren’t set by law, court order or legally binding contract. Such cuts would further crowd classrooms across the state as buildings close and teachers lose their jobs. CPS alone would lose $300 million under such a scenario and have to layoff 3,600 teachers to fill the void.

It could also slash state support of colleges and universities by more than $500 million, resulting in 45,000 students losing access to financial aid while universities would likely have to implement double-digit tuition increases.

Cullerton’s comments previewed a budget hearing set for Wednesday at the Capitol. At the hearing state economic officials and university experts are scheduled to testify about the state’s finances. Senators on both sides of the aisle are encouraged to participate in this budget hearing.

Senate President Cullerton noted that over the past few years, Republicans and Democrats have been able to work together to resolve major issues ranging from Medicaid cuts to pension reform.

“We proven we can accomplish great things when we work together. That’s why I’m inviting anyone interested in leading this state to be a part of a bipartisan solution for this $3 billion problem,” he said.