Democrats’ temporary budget bill fails in House

SHARE Democrats’ temporary budget bill fails in House
SHARE Democrats’ temporary budget bill fails in House

SPRINGFIELD — A one-month spending plan offered by Democratic lawmakers cleared the state Senate as expected Wednesday afternoon but fell short in the House.

It’s the same $2.2 billion, one-month spending plan that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget director called “unconstitutional” in a memo because it would lead to an unbalanced budget.

But Democrats framed the debate over a shutdown of state government Wednesday in terms of life and death.

“There are real human consequences to the action that you have the ability to vote on today,” Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, told her colleagues.

The bill passed the Senate 37-0, with 11 lawmakers voting present.

In the House, it garnered 67 votes of the 71 it needed. There was just one “no” vote — by Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Cary — while 32 voted “present.” That left 18 lawmakers not casting ballots on the measure.

CASH FLOW: Rauner borrows $454 million from special state funds

Illinois began its new fiscal year Wednesday with no operating budget in place — and no sign of a compromise between the first-year Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Rather, their impasse only intensified.

Rauner moved earlier Wednesday to eliminate raises for lawmakers in an amendatory veto of a bill passed by the Legislature last week. In his veto message he said his changes would “eliminate raises for legislators, elected officers of the Executive Branch, and agency directors and other highly compensated state officials.”

It would also freeze the amounts of their per diems and mileage reimbursement rates, he said.

“A balanced budget requires shared sacrifice,” Rauner wrote. “My administration has reduced state personnel costs among agencies under my jurisdiction by $4 million during the first four full months (February through May) of this year, compared to the same period last year.

“Under these circumstances, the state cannot afford to give legislators a raise. Illinois legislators are already among the highest paid in the United States, earning $68,000 to $95,000 per year for part-time service.”

The governor has failed to make headway brokering a deal with Democrats, who instead say he is “operating in the extreme” by asking them to vote against their “core beliefs” in exchange for allowing Illinois’ bills to be paid.

However, a Senate committee did approve a proposal by Senate President John Cullerton that includes a property tax freeze. The president called it “an attempt to reach some kind of a compromise” with the governor.

The state faces a deficit of some $4 billion, a hole worsened in part by the Jan. 1 sunset of a temporary income tax increase.

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said the spending plan hardly represents a new proposal.

“This is like taking your out-of-balance budget that you passed in May and just doing it one month at a time,” Murphy said.

Meanwhile, Democrats put healthcare professionals on center stage. Hospital and nursing representatives spent the morning testifying before House and Senate committees — and predicting stark consequences of a government shutdown.

Alice Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association, told a House committee that “men, women and even children will suffer unnecessarily” if funds are cut off.

“People will die … without a budget agreement,” Tim Egan, President and CEO of Roseland Community Hospital, told state senators.

A House committee entertained similarly dire testimony, though theirs was focused on the impact on transit.

“We don’t have any sort of magic place we can go to substitute the funds we expect from the state,” said new CTA president Dorval Carter.

He said while the CTA would have enough money to fund operations for a short time, there would be “severe impacts” on service after that, with “significant impact” on riders.

Metra executive director Donald Orseno, while still unclear on the exact impact, said the choice is pretty simple: You either have to raise the fares, or you have to reduce service. And Metra just instituted a fairly steep fare increase.

Protests of proposed budget cuts also were planned for the Thompson Center in the Loop.

Democrats say their plan would help avoid a government “shutdown” and ensure critical services, such as state police, continue.

Rauner vetoed the bulk of budget bills last week, saying the overall budget was grossly out of balance. Democrats had said the governor could have proposed adding revenue or slashed the budget where he wished.

On Tuesday, Rauner worked to distance himself from a shutdown of services, acknowledging on the one hand that he vetoed a budget — which gives the state authority to spend money — but saying on the other that state employees should get their paychecks.

“Obviously, we have a financial crisis developing in the state. … I want to make darned sure you guys are paid, you’re paid on time. This is going to be a stressful time for your families, I apologize for that,” Rauner told state employees at an emergency services center Tuesday morning. “We’ve got a mess. It’s going to take a little while to fix. I hope we can get it fixed promptly, we’re fully capable of it.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, continued to call Rauner’s demands for policy changes in exchange for a budget as “operating in the extreme.” Madigan said Rauner could have used his amendatory veto power to keep some services going, rather than a wholesale veto, triggering a shutdown.

“The governor’s advocacy of non-budget issues goes right to the core beliefs of many Democrats and many Republicans,” said Madigan, who painted Rauner’s pro-business, anti-union proposals as lowering wages and said his agenda “brings down the standard of living.”

But Rauner has repeatedly blamed Madigan and Cullerton for the state’s financial predicament, saying they have been beholden to public sector unions and the “political class,” rather than Illinois taxpayers. Rauner has insisted that lawmakers advance his changes to Illinois law if they want a budget passed.

Rauner wants changes in collective bargaining and prevailing wage as a condition of passing a property tax freeze. He also has called for term limits, changes to the way legislative districts are drawn, changes to workers compensation laws and to rules governing lawsuits.

“We’ve attempted to meet him half-way,” Madigan said Tuesday. He pointed to five votes the Illinois House has taken on a property tax freeze with all the “yes” votes coming from Democrats. Missing from that bill were Rauner’s proposals to change local collective bargaining rules and alter rules that require communities to pay a certain level of wages in construction projects.

Democrats have called that language “a poison bill” that goes against their beliefs. Rauner has said that language is necessary to keep costs down for local governments.

“I think people ought to put away partisan politics and look at the real people who are going to be affected by this. One of our responsibilities is to listen to the people with the faintest voices. This is not in the abstract, this is not a statistic. These are real people who are going to be harmed,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. Franks is known for voting against his own party. This time though, he said he’s voting in favor of the one-month deal.

“Grandma is not going to get her medicine, Grandpa is not going to get his home-delivered meal. We’re not going to have cops and conservation police. All this does is give some breathing room.”

However, a supermajority of votes are needed in both chambers to approve a temporary spending measure, and some Republicans were saying Democrats were unnecessarily in panic mode.

“We’re not at a point where everything will come to a screeching halt tomorrow morning. There is enough room with revenues right now to continue with basic services and payroll of state employees,” said Republican House Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.

“(Wednesday’s) vote is nothing more of what we’ve seen over the last month and a half, which is basically gotcha politics and more ammunition for negative mail pieces as opposed to being an adult and responsible and working on compromise on a budget with reforms,” he said.

Rauner has previously said he would veto a temporary budget. While leaving a House Republican caucus on Tuesday, the governor would not comment on a temporary budget bill.

Rauner last week vetoed the bulk of a budget sent to him by Democrats, calling it $4 billion out of balance. Rauner, a Republican, had offered a budget in February that had been criticized as more than $2.2 billion out of balance. But he has said he would only sign off on new taxes if Democrats agreed to his demands for changes in the law that he says would make Illinois more friendly to business.

Becky Schlikerman reported from Springfield.

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