While Illinois Senate Democrats scored some victories on Wednesday — sending pension reform, education funding changes and gaming bills to the Illinois House — they still face the challenge of trying to come to an agreement with Republicans and the governor’s office on a property tax freeze and approving cuts and revenue to actually implement budget spending.
And that’s all just a precursor to the enormous feat of clearing the Illinois House amid a political battle between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The push to clear some of the “grand bargain” bills — while untying them to the plan — came a day after Rauner accused Madigan of trying to “derail” Senate talks. The standalone bills passed in an effort to get them to the Illinois House with just 14 days left until the end of the legislative session.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton couldn’t hide his frustration on the Senate floor: “Do you think it’s going to get better? Seriously?”
Among the measures passed, Senate Democrats approved a $36.5 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, but Republicans didn’t vote for a corresponding measure that would technically implement the budget.
Bills approved included authorization to borrow $7 billion to pay down bills, local government consolidation, pension reform, school funding reform, procurement reform and gaming. There was Republican support on gambling, pension and on the consolidation bill.
The budget bills came to a screeching halt because of no Republican support on a bill that would actually implement the budget, which included hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts. Republicans didn’t support the measure because they want to further negotiate on taxes. A revenue bill wasn’t called after that vote failed because the three — the spending plan, cuts and revenue — are intended to be passed together.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday night filed a motion to reconsider the bill that authorizes the budget.
The largest sticking point — with negotiations still ongoing — is a Republican and Rauner-sought four-year property tax freeze paired with an income tax hike. Democrats say they’ll only approve a two-year hike due to concerns over school districts. They said the two-year timeframe was attached to the original property tax bill Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, sponsored in January.
Radogno noted the bill didn’t reflect the most current agreement regarding discussions to protect taxpayers in a “substantial” way. She urged senators to wait for an agreement.
“We made a lot of progress since then in terms of trying to accommodate each other’s point of view on how long this freeze would be. I think we all need to remember if our taxpayers at home are watching the one thing they universally care about are property taxes,” Radogno said. “It is driving them out of their homes. They care deeply about property taxes. And a simple two-year freeze is inadequate, and there’s been some other really good ideas floated out there that again I think we can come to closure on if we gave ourselves a little more time to do it.”
Cullerton denied that the bill was “inadequate.”
“It’s a Senate bill. It can be amended in the House and let’s pass it. Let’s pass a two-year freeze. If it’s working so well and constituents clamor for it, we can come back next year and we can extend it,” Cullerton said.
The property tax measure needs 36 votes to clear the Senate.
A workers’ compensation bill wasn’t called because of a so-called “technical glitch,” but Cullerton said he hopes to call the bill on Thursday.
Also on Wednesday, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office reported that the state’s unpaid bill backlog has hit $14.3 billion. Mendoza said the number jumped after the governor’s budget office reported more than $1 billion in liabilities held at stage agencies.
They called those liabilities a “dump” by the governor’s office while accusing the administration of holding bills to mask the damage caused “by the governor’s failure to fulfill his constitutional duty and present a balanced budget.”
Rauner’s office called Mendoza’s statement a “partisan” press release meant to promote her “political agenda.”
“Instead of the same tired partisan attacks, it would be helpful if Comptroller Mendoza would talk to her party leaders about working with Republicans to pass a budget that is truly balanced and job-creating changes that will grow our economy,” Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement.