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House Democrats advance budget bills as finger-pointing ensues

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Democrats advanced a series of budget bills on Tuesday, promising to restore social service cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner but setting the stage for a showdown later this summer.

As the series of bills hit the House floor, debate quickly devolved into a partisan blame game over whose plan was more of a sham.

Republicans blasted Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s budget as being irresponsibly out of balance, while Democrats pointed a finger at Rauner, saying his February budget proposal counted on more than $3 billion in false savings.

Rauner has said he would consider raising taxes — but only after lawmakers agreed to a series of his proposals including term limits on lawmakers, a property tax freeze and reforms to workers compensation laws. Rauner has threatened to keep lawmakers in Springfield all summer if they fail to pass those measures. So far, Democrats have shown little interest in advancing his agenda.

On Tuesday, among the most contentious debates came when state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, introduced HB4165, which addressed deep cuts to human services — a flashpoint between the administration and the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The proposed bill funded programs that Rauner’s budget had slashed or zeroed out, Harris said, including restoring immigrant and refugee funding as well as money for autism, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Boys and Girls Clubs, YWCA and YMCA programs.

Harris said it included $134 million in cuts in all and held Medicaid spending to fiscal year 2015 levels.

“We understand that everything has to be on the table; there has to be cuts. The operations lines in all the departments are cut by 4 percent,” Harris said. “We’ve heard from literally thousands and thousands of people about importance of the autism program; about the importance of early intervention; about the importance of child care; about the importance of preserving services to people with disabilities and to our senior citizens. . . . All of these things are included in this budget.”

Madigan on Monday telegraphed the budget proposal Democrats would put forward, saying the $36.3 billion spending plan would reflect “what the state of Illinois should do for Illinoisans who need the government to be helpful to them.” Madigan acknowledged “we don’t have the money to pay for this budget” — in fact they’ll be about $3 billion short — but he said he’s prepared to work with Rauner to find “new money.”

“We’ve all seen this Greek tragedy before,” House Republican Minority Leader Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, railed in debate Tuesday. “It really is a tragedy regarding year in and year out, unbalanced budgets, overspending by the House Democrats and the Senate Democrats.”

Still, Democrats said they were simply doing what Rauner had done: Laying out a spending plan that showed their priorities. They ripped Republicans for suggesting that history would not look kindly on the Democratic budget.

“Was it we who proposed cuts to people with autism and epilepsy? Was it we who proposed kicking kids off ventilators?” asked Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago. “Was it we who proposed that you shouldn’t get a kidney transplant if you need one just because you’re from another country? . . . We’re gonna come back around and ask the Bruce Rauner class in our state to pay their fair share and fund it.”