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Ill. Fails, Again, to Pass Budget, Putting Families and Schools at Risk

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois appears poised to enter a second year without a budget after lawmakers finished their legislative session without agreement on a spending plan, setting up a November electoral showdown while public schools and social service providers brace for an uncertain future.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left, talks to Illinois Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, right, while on the Senate floor during the May 31 session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. AP Photo by Seth Perlman
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left, talks to Illinois Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, right, while on the Senate floor during the May 31 session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. AP Photo by Seth Perlman

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s suggestion for a last-minute, short-term budget to give the state some near-term stability amid the 11-month impasse also failed to gain traction with ruling Democrats, who also clashed among themselves in the final hours Tuesday.

Hours before adjournment, Rauner delivered a verdict on the past five months.

“Today we end the spring session of the General Assembly in stunning failure,” he said, blaming Democrats for prolonging the budget battle in what sounded like an election-year stump speech.

Democrats argue Rauner’s yearlong insistence on passing pro-business legislation and curbing the power of unions — one of their strongest constituencies — is the reason for the historic impasse.

Come November, the wealthy former venture capitalist will try to chip away at Democrats’ majorities in the House and Senate while they look to boost their numbers to impose their will on the first-term governor.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaks to reporters outside his office on May 31 at the state Capitol in Springfield, Ill. AP Photo by Seth Perlman
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaks to reporters outside his office on May 31 at the state Capitol in Springfield, Ill. AP Photo by Seth Perlman

As the budget stalemate has dragged on, Democrats have refused to give in to Rauner’s demands, and he hasn’t back down, either. Rauner wants business-friendly legislation that he says will spur economic growth in exchange for signing off on a tax increase to address a $5 billion deficit. Democrats say Rauner’s ideas hurt the middle class.

Democrats had no viable budget proposal as the session concluded.

The Senate rejected the House’s $40 billion budget plan, which was $7 billion out of balance. Meanwhile, with only hours before they adjourned, Senate Democrats pushed a stand-alone proposal for public schools that Republicans decried as unrealistic because it added nearly a billion dollars at a time when the state is running a massive deficit.

The House overwhelmingly rejected the Senate’s plan.

Illinois has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country without a budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. The stakes for getting a budget this time around are higher because public schools are afraid they won’t have funding to open this fall.

Rauner’s temporary budget proposal sought to fund public schools through next year and provide support for financially-strapped social service providers and higher-education institutions through December.

“If the Democrats leave here today without having done that, every single rank-and-file Democrat who sides with their leader against keeping the state operating wears the collar,” said Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

Rauner’s budget chief warned on May 27 of “devastating” consequences if Illinois lawmakers don’t agree on a spending plan for another year, even as negotiations between the Republican governor and Democrats who lead the Legislature appear to go nowhere.

Budget Director Tim Nuding said he’s worried about how to keep the lights on and provide food at Illinois’ prisons and state-run homes for veterans and disabled people, noting the state is billions of dollars behind in paying its bills, causing utility companies and other vendors to lose patience.

Illinois, which already has the lowest credit rating of any state, also could be hit with another downgrade, which would increase taxpayers’ cost with any borrowing, Nuding said. Because of the nearly 11-month budget stalemate for the current fiscal year — the next budget notwithstanding — social service agencies have shut down, universities have laid off staff and programs have been cut.

“It will only be worse from here,” Nuding said.

Last week, Rauner’s administration opposed a temporary fix when Democrats first raised the idea but relented as the end of the session neared.

Lawmakers can keep working after the session ends and have said they will. But passing legislation will become more difficult. They needed a simple majority to pass a budget before adjournment Tuesday night. After that, they’ll need three-fifths support from each chamber.

Democratic leaders said they’ll consider the idea of a short-term solution over the coming weeks.

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Ivan Moreno of The Associated Press wrote this report. Associated Press writers Sara Burnett and Ashley Lisenby contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press


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