‘Sign of progress’ amid the ‘childish play’ in Springfield

SHARE ‘Sign of progress’ amid the ‘childish play’ in Springfield
SHARE ‘Sign of progress’ amid the ‘childish play’ in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House Wednesday unanimously passed a measure to distribute over $5 billion in federal funds for state programs.

It was a rare sign of unity by Democrats and Republicans — with one top GOP leader heralding it as “a sign of progress.”

But the vote didn’t come without some typical Springfield political wrangling.

First, Democrats called an alternative spending measure for a vote — an amendment House Republicans dubbed a “poison pill” because it added state general revenue funds to a bill that would appropriate billions in federal money for use in the state.

To no one’s surprise, it failed to pass.

Republicans denounced the alternative measure as apolitical “charade” that would be used for negative campaigning. The amendment sought to appropriate state money for programs involving breast and cervical cancer screening and childcare assistance.

GOP legislators argued that Democrats will use their opposition to falsely suggest Republicans are against those programs.

Minutes later, Democrats called another measure, which didn’t include the spending of state general revenue funds but added the appropriation of additional federal funds to a bill already endorsed by the Senate and Gov. Bruce Rauner. That passed unanimously.

Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, later rebuked Republicans’ characterizations of the measure that included state funds.

“I take great exception to the use of the Rauner Republicans in the House of language such as ‘poison pills’ when we’re trying to help women with breast cancer and children with disabilities,” Madigan said.

Madigan said some of the federal funds needed state funding attached to it. For instance, the Meals on Wheels program requires the state provide at least 15 percent of the federal funds received, he said.

But Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called the attempt to pass the measure “political” and “embarrassing.”

“Maybe some day the structure of the Legislature will change. If it does, rest assured that the Republicans are not going to participate in this childish play, which [Democrats] have been doing for the past four months,” Durkin said. “Putting people on votes for political, partisan reasons.”

The House took up the spending measure after the Senate last week passed the bill to appropriate $4.8 billion in federal funds amid the state’s budget stalemate.

But not all the federal money that’s on the table was scooped up by that bill, and that’s why House Democrats added the amendments.

The Senate has to approve the changes now.

Durkin said the ultimate passage of the measure Wednesday was “a sign of progress.”

Madigan called Wednesday’s actions another step in the path to “meet the governor half way” as the budget statement continues.

“This is an opportunity for the governor to move towards conciliation with members in the Legislature and to take positive steps towards drafting a budget,” Madigan said.

A spokeswoman for Rauner said in a prepared statement that the governor “supports a clean bill that allows the state to pass through federal funds without adding to the state’s budget deficit.

“He is pleased to see the House pass legislation that does exactly that.”

The House-endorsed measure adds about $435 million in additional federal funds for terrorism preparedness and for spending by the Illinois State Board of Education for things such as preschool expansion and student assessments.

It also provides $166.5 million to theMetropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority from special state funds for debt service on expansion bonds. McPier, as it’s known, missed a $20.8 million monthly payment on bonds sold to bankroll a convention center expansion.

Even as he objected to the Republican characterization of Democrats’ motives behind the alternative bill, Madigan took a political shot at the GOP.

“I think it’s interesting to note that the governor’s office and the Rauner Republicans in the House did not object to the appropriation of state money for McCormick Place in Chicago,” Madigan told reporters.

“The Rauner Republicans in the House objected to appropriating state money for [the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program], breast [and] cervical cancer screenings, early interventions, Meals on Wheels and child care — but they did not object to spending state money on McCormick place.”

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