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After 2 Years, Illinois Passes A Budget


The state of Illinois has been in a budget crisis since 2015. All that instability meant vendors didn't get paid, and students left state universities. Now finally, a breakthrough. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: This was a political clash between a Democratic-led legislature and new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. He wanted to implement changes he said would make Illinois more business friendly. Democrats said his agenda would hurt the middle class. Maria Whelan, the head of Illinois Action for Children, says the fight left plenty of collateral damage. She says the $36 billion budget that lawmakers approved will help restore programs for children and at-risk families.

MARIA WHELAN: But as a state, we have a really long way to go in terms of figuring out how we rebuild.

CORLEY: The budget, the first for Illinois since 2015, includes spending cuts and an income tax hike that will raise about $5 billion in revenue. During the impasse, vendors either didn't receive money or waited months to be paid. Chicago State University was one of the public universities hard hit. Interim President Rachel Lindsey says many students fled, not certain the school would survive. She says the state's new budget will make a difference.

RACHEL LINDSEY: We will be able to restore programs that support students and support faculty in ways that had diminished.

CORLEY: On the other side of town, the president of Northeastern Illinois University, Richard Helldobler, says the school had started the painful process of cutting 180 positions.

RICHARD HELLDOBLER: For right now, we've told the community that we're hitting the pause button. And once we assess what's going on with the bill, we'll figure out how to move ahead.

CORLEY: Several Republicans broke ranks with Governor Rauner to support the deal, which will allow the state to start paying back a portion of $15 billion in bills. Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan group the Civic Federation says it's a deal that will indeed help the state move forward.

LAURENCE MSALL: It is not a panacea, the spending plan that has been approved by the legislature. And the additional revenue will allow for the framework of a budget, but it won't solve the state's $130 billion unfunded pension liability challenge.

CORLEY: And despite the new budget, it's still uncertain whether the rating agencies will follow through on warnings to downgrade Illinois' credit rating to junk bond status. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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