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Standing between Gov. Bruce Rauner and his balanced budget promise is nearly $9 billion.

That’s the amount of red ink his budget director recently said will be wiped out in the plan the governor unveils Wednesday.

And he needs to do more than just eliminate that deficit.

He needs to increase public school funding by $350 million if he wants to uphold the education funding reform that he’s cited as his top accomplishment. This is his first budget since signing that law, which calls for a $350 million increase. Anything less undermines the governor’s accomplishment.

I hope he’s going to invest in our decimated higher education system. Budget turmoil sent 72,000 students elsewhere, eliminated nearly 7,500 jobs and cost the Illinois economy nearly $1 billion per year.

Adding a degree of difficulty is that the governor says he will balance the budget, honor his commitments and do it all while reducing the state’s tax rates.

I wish him luck.

More spending and lower taxes — I can’t wait to see how he does it.

Now, truth be told, Bruce Rauner finds himself in the best position he’s ever been in to balance the budget. For the first time since he took office, he is backed by a budget that includes enough revenue coming in to cover the expenditures going out.

For that, he can thank the bipartisan group of lawmakers who last year worked together, overcame the governor’s veto and enacted the state’s first budget in more than two years. That plan saved us from a downgrade to junk status in the credit markets and, for the moment, restored some degree of stability.

That said, not everything in our budget worked. We sent the governor a Republican-backed pension reform plan, one his administration initially said could save $500 million annually. Turns out the pension agencies weren’t ready to put it in motion. Those savings haven’t materialized.

Same thing with estimated state revenues. They came in $500 million lower than the estimates used to produce our bipartisan budget agreement.

That’s state budgeting for you.

Not everything works as planned. It’s state government. We’re not perfect.

Along the same lines, surely the governor recognizes by now that none of his previous budget proposals balanced. But, honestly, that doesn’t matter now.

The world only spins forward.

Why litigate the 2016 budget when the challenges of the 2019 budget are about to knock down the door?

On Wednesday, when Gov. Rauner steps to the podium to deliver his state financial plan, it is an opportunity him to take charge of the situation rather than be a spectator.

I urge the governor to seize the opportunity and be the budget leader everyone in Illinois needs him to be.

State Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is the president of the Illinois Senate and represents the 6th district.

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