SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate leaders on Monday slammed the brakes on a massive and ambitious budget package — which includes increasing the income tax, raising the minimum wage and authorizing the state to build six new casinos, including one in Chicago — saying they want it voted on by the new Illinois General Assembly members.
Members were “reticent” about voting during the lame duck session, the leaders said. Instead, the budget package will be re-introduced on Wednesday, the day the new General Assembly is sworn in, and be assigned to committees to try to quickly get it back to the floor.
The leaders’ goal? Try to pass the budget by Feb. 1. But that’s just out of the Senate. It will still have to pass several hurdles in the House under Speaker Michael Madigan’s leadership.
Talks between Madigan and Rauner broke down in December after a series of meetings with the governor and legislative leaders.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Monday said he hopes the bipartisan budget package will show “an example of how we can work this out.”
Details of the package trickled out of the Senate Assignments Committee, which approved eight bills, including a budget spending plan and gaming, revenue, local government consolidation, minimum wage, bill backpay effort, and procurement reform measures.
But there are also some bills still in-the-works and meant to be included in the package, including a property tax freeze, workers’ compensation, education funding and a constitutional amendment to limit the terms of legislative leaders in both the House and Senate.
And the bills are meant to be linked via an amendment — meaning all of them must work together to be passed.
Cullerton, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and their staffs took the reins on the renewed negotiations — appearing to leave Madigan and Rauner out of the talks.
But Rauner’s preferred reforms are reflected in the package.
“One of the big takeaways from this is it’s the first time we’re acknowledging that we really do need to link the reforms, the revenue and the budget all together,” Radogno said.
Cullerton wouldn’t go so far as to put a stamp on the reforms on their own, but acknowledged they are part of a budget package that will end an “embarrassing” impasse.
“This was not a tax increase. This is a budget. This is a budget package with reforms that Sen. Radogno referred to,” Cullerton said. “You can classify them as reforms. That’s fine. However you want to classify them, they’re important issues that we take up all the time and we’re addressing those, as well.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the package appears to “not yet be complete.”
“Until you have a complete package, it’s hard to even analyze, no less decide what works,” Brown said.
Brown also questioned the package as a whole: “That means you could take some precarious votes and if other things don’t pass for whatever reason, then you’re out there walking the plank.”
Brown instead encouraged the Senate to take up a House measure to fund higher education and social services, which was approved Monday 63-49.
Within the Senate budget package is a bill that would provide spending authority to finish out the second half the current budget year from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. It includes $740 million for human services and an additional $10 million for youth employment programs. It also includes $1.1 billion for higher education to fully fund the MAP scholarship program.
A gaming bill would authorize the state to open six new casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs, Rockford, Lake County, Danville and unincorporated Williamson County — with all up-front licensing fees to pay down the state’s past-due bills. All other revenue would be deposited in the Education Assistance Fund. Chicago casino revenues would be earmarked for the Policemen’s and Firemen’s Pension funds.
A revenue bill would increase the personal income tax to 4.95 percent, which would generate $4.1 billion annually. It would also increase the corporate income tax from 5.25 percent to 7 percent. A penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would become effective May 1.
A minimum wage bill would raise the Illinois minimum wage to $9 an hour beginning July 1, 2017. It would increase by 50 cents until 2020 when it would reach $11.
A pension reform bill would eliminate the General Assembly Retirement System for future lawmakers – meaning new lawmakers won’t get a pension. That is estimated to save $700 million to $1 billion annually.
Additional savings would be made by having university employees, public school teachers, General Assembly members and Chicago teachers have a choice of benefits related to raises they may receive in their careers and the annual cost of living adjustments to their pensions in retirement. State employees are excluded from the plan due to ongoing legal action.
The House bills that Madigan’s spokesman urged the Senate to take up were filed by a key House Democrat, who proposed his own party-backed spending plan to fund social services and higher education.
Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, filed a proposal that would give social-services programs $258 million and higher-education programs $400 million. That money would include a full semester for MAP grants for all colleges, universities and community colleges, as well as funds for adult, vocational education and GED programs, according to Harris.
The money would come from two funds — the human-service fund and the educational-assistance fund. Both are fed from income taxes and would be available to spend within the first six months of the year.
“It’s a lifeline,” Harris said. “Social service agencies are literally deciding whether to shut their doors, so this proposal would be a lifeline to them as the larger negotiations go on.”
The new General Assembly will be sworn in on Wednesday, with the winners of November election contests taking their seats.
The state has struggled since 2015 without a regular budget. Rauner has said he needs reforms to help bring in businesses and curb union power, a local property tax freeze and term limits. Madigan has refused to negotiate on the reforms, instead focusing on appropriations.
Speaking at a law-enforcement appreciation breakfast in Springfield, Rauner on Monday morning was asked whether he and Madigan were being “cut out” of the budget talks.
“I don’t know if I’d say cut out is the right word,” Rauner laughed. “I don’t need to be in the middle of everything,” adding he’s hoping the bipartisan talks will produce a budget with reforms, with or without him.
“I’m happy to be in whatever meetings are going on, and I’m happy to stay out of it,” Rauner said. “Whatever gets the job done.”