- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget chief apologized to a House oversight panel Tuesday for the confusion caused by the suspension of $26 million in social service and public health grants - a move that that surprised some lawmakers, who thought they had already plugged a $1.6 billion budget gap.

Tim Nuding, director of the governor’s office of management and budget, told the committee, specially formed by House Speaker Michael Madigan last week, that he intended to “do a better job communicating” and would do so as Rauner’s office works with the legislature on a budget for the fiscal year beginning next July to fill a much larger $6 billion hole.

“I feel like I communicated through all the proper channels about my intentions,” Nuding said. “I apologize if there was a misunderstanding. … I believe I’m a trustworthy person. I know that I have credibility. I hope to establish that with you. It troubles me greatly that we have had miscommunications on that issue.”

Rauner, a Republican, came into office in January inheriting a $1.6 budget shortfall created after lawmakers last spring passed a $35.7 billion budget that didn’t allocate enough money for expenses. Democrats - who then controlled both Houses of the General Assembly as well as the governor’s mansion - approved the plan hoping that after the November election they would make permanent a temporary income tax increase passed in 2011.

The victory by Rauner, who campaigned in opposition to the income tax increase, scuttled that hope and the tax rate rolled back on Jan. 1 from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals, and from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for corporations.

Programs affected by the budget gap included state-subsidized day care programs, court reporters, and the state’s department of corrections. Lawmakers and Rauner spent the early months of the new year negotiating a solution to plug the hole. The package the legislature passed in March authorizes Rauner to transfer $1.3 billion from special funds dedicated to other purposes, including parks and conservation. The rest would come from a 2.25 percent across-the-board budget cut. It also gave the governor authority over $97 million to distribute to needy schools.

Nuding said he thought he had been clear to lawmakers previously that more cuts could happen beyond the legislation they approved, which didn’t go far enough to close the hole.

The governor announced on Good Friday a halt to $26 million in grants that pay for the funerals and burials of public-assistance recipients, as well as smoking cessation, teen programs, autism, and HIV and AIDS programs. Acting Department of Human Services Director Greg Bassi said Tuesday decisions on cuts were aimed at not interrupting “traditional core services” provided by the state.

Rauner, a wealthy private equity executive before winning the election, has been criticized for cutting social programs while allowing some $100 million tax breaks for business to go ahead.

Some Democrats on the panel said they were left in the dark about the governor’s actions.

“As you can imagine, on Good Friday, you hear that autism (program funding) is cut. . Looking back, I think that would have impacted how I voted,” said Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates, who was one of roughly two dozen Democrats who voted for the budget fix measure.

John Bradley, a Marion Democrat who chairs the House Revenue and Finance Committee, asked Nuding to provide a detailed list of the programs cut and the criteria used to make those decisions.

The House panel’s meeting came the same day as a state senator introduced legislation to restore $26 million in grant cuts. Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge cited a “shared concern” for funding programs that support vulnerable Illinois residents.

But it was unclear late Tuesday whether the legislation had enough support to pass.

Rauner’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether it backed the legislation. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman said the chamber would review the proposal if it was passed by the Senate.

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Online: www.ilga.gov

The bill is SB274

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Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kerrylester

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