Still no state budget, but it’s there if you look

SHARE Still no state budget, but it’s there if you look

Gov. Bruce Rauner continues to battle Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton over school funding. | Associated Press file photos

Lost in the disgust over another epic fail by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly to pass a budget is that we now have a pretty good idea of what a budget deal will look like, should we ever get one.

The budget will include spending in the neighborhood of $37.3 billion, compared to $35.7 billion in fiscal 2015, the last time Illinois had a complete budget.

It will include an income tax hike that will probably increase the individual tax rate to just below the temporary 5 percent rate that was allowed to expire at the end of 2014.


It will likely include a sales tax on a limited number of services.

It will include across-the-board spending cuts to nearly all state agencies, including higher education, and some type of pension cost savings.

And it will include non-budget items, including changes to workers compensation and some sort of temporary freeze on local property taxes.

We know all this thanks to the budget negotiations that took place in the Illinois Senate.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree on these things, including the tax increases — even Rauner when he’s being honest, which isn’t often. Not all of them agree, but enough to get the job done.

The problem is Rauner wants more, and nobody is sure yet what House Speaker Mike Madigan wants besides Rauner’s demise, so the fight goes on.

But if a budget deal is to be made to prevent Illinois government from falling completely off the cliff, this is the outline of it.

“What’s going to be different than this budget we passed?” a weary Senate President John Cullerton asked reporters late Wednesday night as the legislative session drew to its ignominious finish.

“The ultimate budget is going to be very similar to this,” Cullerton said.

Cullerton was referring to a budget approved days earlier by the Senate with only Democratic votes.

That budget came in at the $37.3 billion level recommended by Rauner. It relied on $5.4 billion in new tax revenue, including a 4.95 percent individual income tax rate, and a sales tax on such services as laundry and dry-cleaning, storage facilities, pest control, security and tattoo parlors. There was a 5 percent spending cut for state agencies, and a 10 percent cut for higher ed (which would still make out better than it has during two years with no budget.)

The Senate’s budget was never voted on in the House.

Cullerton intended his question rhetorically about what would be different, but I think the difference is that the eventual budget will more closely resemble a version Cullerton had been prepared to put to a vote earlier that better reflected Republican preferences.

When it became apparent Republicans were not going to vote for that version, which included more spending cuts and a slightly different tax mix, Democrats tweaked it to make it more to their own liking.

If they ever come to an actual compromise that includes Rauner and Madigan, I would expect they would return to the more Republican-friendly version.

That’s why they call it a compromise.

The Senate Democrats deserve credit for actually passing a balanced budget that included the tax increases. It took political courage knowing Rauner and the GOP would by laying in wait with the predictable political attacks.

I don’t want to overstate the case, because in the end, nothing was accomplished, but they don’t deserve the same scorn being heaped on everyone else.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat, said he and his colleagues decided it was better to pass a budget that was politically painful than to do nothing.

“Doing nothing only makes the hole deeper,” Cunningham said, referring to the state’s $14 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

Even the Democrats’ version did nothing to start chipping away at that backlog, which is why the final deal may require even more tax increases and spending cuts.

Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat at the forefront of the budget talks, expressed her frustration over the damage that’s been caused by the budget impasse — and with Rauner for not approving a deal that included a two-year property tax freeze.

“It’s never good enough,” she said. “I feel like people are letting him get away with way too much.”

Despite all that, she insists: “The deal is there to be had.”

And like it or not, this is what that deal will look like — with both higher taxes and cuts to services.

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