Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Annie Banks, Katy Brennan, Elizabeth Johnston and Madison Parola
CHARLESTON––As representatives scrambled around Springfield on June 25 trying to pass a budget, the mood inside of the Capital swelled with hope.
Moving into three fiscal years without a budget, Illinois’ financial status is on life support. If lawmakers do not pass a budget by July 1, Illinois’ credit rating will be demoted to “junk status.” Receiving a junk status rating will make it nearly impossible for the state to borrow money without significant interest rates.
Not only will Illinois’ credit rating tank, but many crucial programs will have their funding cut. Programs at risk include education, transportation, human services, and other providers that maintain a person’s well-being.
Director of Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield, Charlie Wheeler, shared the critical situation of the state during a speech to prospective journalism students. “Even though there is no budget, the money keeps coming,” Wheeler said, “What’s going on is not noticeable.”
Lobbyist for the Better Government Association, Jose Sanchez, echoed Wheeler as he explained that citizens do not see the problems now, but they will if the state moves into July 1 without a budget. He elaborated on his concerns, stating that on July 1 if we do not have a budget, all construction projects will close and Illinois will not regain its Powerball Lottery license.
“We just need to get a deal done,” Sanchez said. He explained that his lobbyist group does not advocate for Conservatives or Republicans; they advocate for a budget. Their hope is that this goal will be accomplished by July 1, and the citizens of Illinois will never see these consequences.
When speaking with two representatives from the Illinois House from Collinsville and Lake Villa, it became clear that many representatives are hopeful that compromise is soon to come. “I’m hopeful,” Representative Deborah Conroy of Lake Villa said. “It’s my understanding that they’re getting much closer.”
Representative Katie Stuart of Collinsville reiterates this perception when asked about the budget’s future and meetings between leaders of both parties. She used the word “hopeful” when discussing the House’s progress on a balanced budget. When asked about the meetings between Democrat and Republican leaders, Stuart stated that “every report I hear sounds one step closer.”
Despite being from opposite ends of the state, these women agree on one thing: Illinois needs a budget. Both stated no specific requests for the budget’s content, so long as we pass a budget. Conroy and Stuart both remain optimistic that the state of Illinois will soon pass one.
The general opinion of the reps seems clear. Everyone believes that “legislators need to get this done” said Sanchez. Eventually, the citizens will chime in. As Wheeler said, “people will figure out what’s the best for what they want.”