Midwestern States Address Infrastructure, Heroin Use, State Budgets

Apr 18, 2016

As the Iowa legislature strives toward adjournment, we look to surrounding states to compare and contrast priorities at other statehouses in the Midwest during this hour of River to River. During this conversation, Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell talks with Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting, Brian Mackey of WUIS in Springfield, Illinois, and Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio.

In Indiana, Smith says a gas tax increase and a growing problem with heroin use that led to an epidemic of HIV diagnoses in the Southern part of the state last year have been top of mind for legislators.

“[The spread of HIV] seems to sort of leveled off. At the height of the outbreak last year, it was at levels compared to the kind you see in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Smith.

“It was almost entirely related to heroin use, and it was needles. Indiana had laws in place that you couldn’t have a needle exchange program, you couldn’t distribute clean needles to drug addicts, so you had this situation that people were passing on HIV without even really knowing it.”

This year, lawmakers passed legislation allowing clean needle exchanges to try to help stop the spread of HIV.  

In Illinois, the continued budget stalemate continues to make news. Governor Bruce Rauner has still not been able to reach an agreement with lawmakers over a budget, which is affecting state services and is starting to create major problems for some state universities.

“You also have a real crisis developing in higher education. The U of I has been able to get through without any state funding but what we call the directional schools are really having difficulties,” explains Mackey.

“A number of them have laid off 100, 200 people. Chicago State put out notices to all employees, including the president of the university and have said they will shut down by the end of the month if no agreement is reached.”

While budget decisions in Wisconsin are causing nowhere near the level of strife they’re causing in Illinois, state universities there are also feeling a lack of support from state government after cuts to the state budget.

“We have a two year budget in Wisconsin, and a lot of the stuff our legislature handled was in the first year of the two year budget,” says Johnson.

“[The cuts] were significant. We were going to through a time or economic growth, but because the legislature had passed a bunch of tax cuts, there wasn’t enough money to pay ongoing bills, so the university got cut.”