President of Illinois state senate talks state debt in “bad news, bad news” discussion

President of the Illinois state senate John Cullerton addresses the audience at the Dury Lane theater in Oak Brook Terrace on Wednesday March 29 Photo by Stefan Carlson

President of the Illinois state senate John Cullerton addresses the audience at the Dury Lane theater in Oak Brook Terrace on Wednesday March 29 Photo by Stefan Carlson

Alveena Siddiqi

Staff Writer

The President of the Illinois Senate spoke on the Illinois financial crisis and possible solutions on March 31 during the tenth annual governmental forum at the Drury Lane Theatre and Conference Center in Oak Brook Terrace.

John Cullerton introduced his lecture as a “bad news, bad news” speech. He began by stating that the state debt recently reached thirteen billion dollars.

While addressing the details and implications of the debt, he highlighted the harmful impact the crisis has had on higher education. Drastic cuts to the Illinois state budget have already limited higher education funds and resulted in attempts from colleges to balance their budgets through higher tuitions and fees — a move that, in turn, has resulted in an increasing number of high school students looking outside of Illinois for prospective colleges.

Above all, the speech emphasized the necessity of bilateral cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in resolving the state’s mounting crisis.

During a portion of the forum moderated by Chairman of the Inland Real Estate Group of Companies Daniel Goodwin, Cullerton criticized Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for running divisive re-election campaign ads during such an urgent legislative process.

“Just for a couple months, let’s just focus on the budget,” he said.  “It’s counterproductive. It doesn’t help the members of my caucus when we ask them to take this tough vote, while he’s running ads slamming them.”

However, Cullerton also expressed his belief, despite rising polarity in politics, that there are many legislators willing to put aside differences and come together to resolve the crisis.

He argued the “Grand Bargain”, a controversial twelve-bill budget proposal announced by Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno in January, as the result of such cooperation.

“It’s a compromise in the truest form, something we don’t see enough of in Springfield, obviously. It’s an intricate and delicate give and take, designed to create a plan that will win bipartisan support from lawmakers and hopefully get the governor’s signature” he stated.  “It’s not a Democrat plan, it’s not a Republican plan; we’ve all influenced it and we all need votes from both sides of the aisle to pass it.”

Cullerton continued, “There are parts of it, believe me, that I don’t like, but I have to accept that if there’s ever going to be a compromise and a solution, I have to accept the whole package.”

Cullerton expressed his appreciation toward Radogno for her vital role in the establishing the plan after Rauner pulled the plug on Senate budget negotiations earlier in the year.

“I give her a lot of credit for starting this bipartisan process,” he said.

While recognizing the challenges that Springfield representatives currently face in balancing the state debt, EC President Troy VanAken stressed the importance in such polarizing times of continued support for programs to aid higher education.

“Remember what brings us together, education is one of those things,” VanAken said during his introduction of Cullerton.