Illinois Senate on spot to back measure plugging budget gap

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Illinois Senate leaders are on the spot to find enough votes for a proposed deal to close a $1.6 billion gap in this year’s budget and save state programs and agencies from running out of money.

A day after the plan passed the House Tuesday, many members of the Democratic-led chamber expressed support for the bill, but others remained holdouts, noting that they were still reviewing the impact of the proposal.

The bills are HB317 and 318

“I appreciate that cuts are necessary, but you want to use a scalpel,” said state Sen. Kwame Raoul, of Chicago. “I will have to evaluate how it’s going to affect the least of these.”

Senate Democrats, who offered some of the most vocal resistance to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s request for authority to move money around in the state budget, had yet to meet to discuss the bill on Wednesday. The full chamber could vote on the measure either Thursday or Friday, the last scheduled session day of the legislative session until mid-April.

Senate appropriations chairwoman Heather Steans said that three major sticking points — cuts to schools, hospitals and local governments — were addressed during the weekslong negotiation between the governor and Legislative leaders. She said it is unlikely that a majority of Democrats will vote for she hoped some would and the measure would pass.

Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski, also an appropriations chair, called the proposal a “win-win.”

The legislation would authorize Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to transfer $1.3 billion from other purposes, including parks and conservation. The rest would come from a 2.25 percent across-the-board budget cut. It also gives the governor authority over $97 million to distribute to needy schools.

The plan also gives the governor discretion over an additional $90 million in case of unanticipated budget problems.

At issue is the $35.7 billion budget lawmakers passed last spring that didn’t allocate enough money for expenses, leaving the $1.6 billion gap. Democrats passed the budget last spring hoping that after the November election they would make permanent a temporary income tax increase passed in 2011. The victory in the gubernatorial race of Rauner, who opposed tax increases, scuttled that hope and the tax increase rolled back on Jan. 1, from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals, and from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for corporations.

The child care program needs $300 million to operate through June. According to the governor’s office, funds will run out for after-care programs at the Department of Juvenile Justice next month if a fix isn’t approved and the state will run out of money for developmental centers and mental health facilities in May.

The Legislation, seen as a key test of the new governor’s tenure, passed the House with the support of 46 of the chamber’s 47 Republicans.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, acknowledged they’d also have to step up to help the measure pass.

“It’s not a pain-free solution,” said Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. “But there’s a general support for our governor and our leaders.”

KERRY LESTER, Associated Press

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