Illinois lawmakers left Springfield Wednesday after once again failing to enact a permanent budget by the scheduled end of the General Assembly’s spring session.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the House would continue to “work through the month of June” to try to reach agreement on a spending-and-revenue plan. The state’s new fiscal year starts July 1, and bond-rating agencies have warned that the state’s credit rating could be dropped yet again if there is no budget by then.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said the Democratic majority committed a “complete dereliction of duty” by failing to approve a budget before the end of May. He said lawmakers should remain in Springfield to work on the budget. However, Rauner did not respond to reporters’ questions about whether he would force lawmakers to return by calling a special session.
By going beyond May 31, the already difficult task of rounding up votes for a spending plan that contains significant cuts and tax increases needed to stabilize state finances will get more difficult. Now, it will take a three-fifths supermajority — or six more votes in the Senate and 11 more in the House — to pass something that will end the stalemate that has left the state without a permanent budget for 701 days.
Senate Democrats approved a $37.3 billion spending plan that they said matched the spending level outlined by Rauner in his February budget speech. Democrats said the plan cut $3 billion from outlays currently going out the door, even though the state doesn’t have a budget.
The Senate also approved $5.4 billion in higher taxes to help balance the budget, including raising the income tax and extending the sales tax to some services.
House Democrats, though, were reluctant to embrace the Senate’s bills, particularly since Rauner said he would veto them if they reached his desk. Democrats do not have enough votes in the House to override a veto on their own.
‘More work’ needed
Democrats huddled behind closed doors for several hours Wednesday and emerged to say there would be no votes on a budget or tax hikes.
“It is our decision more work needs to be done on our budget proposal,” said Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, the House Democrats’ top budget negotiator. “As soon as we return to Chicago, there will be continual hearings and work throughout the coming weeks to reach a final conclusion.”
Harris said a number of Democrats were concerned about what happened in the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats were negotiating on a budget and reform items sought by Rauner only to discover “the governor was pulling votes off the bill and then attacking the very people who had worked on the compromise, voting for things that he had previously supported.”
“Some of our people are concerned, having observed how the governor worked with the Senate,” Madigan said. “They just don’t have a high level of confidence in how the governor has conducted himself.”
Not long after, Rauner held a news conference to lay out his view of what happened.
“Today, we’ve seen a complete dereliction of duty by the majority in the General Assembly,” Rauner said. “A tragic failure to pass a balanced budget along with critical structural changes to protect the taxpayers and grow more jobs. Instead, the majority in the General Assembly passed phony bills trying to manage phony headlines. The people of Illinois deserve better than this. We’ve got to stop sticking it to the taxpayers of Illinois.”
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said senators were making progress on the budget and Rauner’s reform issues as part of a “grand bargain” until Democrats bowed to pressure from their interest groups and refused to bargain further.
“It’s crystal clear to me today that even if it had gotten to the House, that Speaker Madigan has absolutely no intention whatsoever of changing a single, solitary thing in this state,” Radogno said.
Madigan insisted he and House Democrats “have been very cooperative with Gov. Rauner throughout this session of the General Assembly.” He pointed to various issues sought by Rauner that the House approved, like purchasing reform, selling the Thompson Center, government consolidation and workers’ compensation reform. He also said the House addressed property tax relief.
Rauner, though, and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said the bills are mostly shams. The Thompson Center bill gives more money to Chicago, and the government consolidation bill is watered down, Rauner said. Durkin contended the workers’ compensation changes that were approved don’t result in any real savings for employers.
The House also OK’d a school funding reform bill Wednesday night that is supposed to direct more state money to the neediest school districts. However, Republicans said Democrats at the last minute larded the bill up with millions of dollars more for Chicago public schools.
“This is how they operate,” Durkin said of the House Democrats. “They pass bills they know will fail or not be signed by the governor and run around the state proclaiming they are protecting the small guy.”
A year ago, the General Assembly also blew past its May 31 adjournment date without a budget. Lawmakers met roughly once a week in June before finally approving a six-month stopgap budget at the end of the month.
Rauner has said he will not sign another stopgap budget without reforms he has demanded.
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