SPRINGFIELD — Coming in just under the wire, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed budget bills Thursday to fund state operations until the end of the year and to ensure schools open on time this fall — just hours after the spending package passed the Legislature.
After two days of lengthy closed-door meetings among the legislative leaders and Rauner, the state Senate approved the final piece of the stopgap budget package Thursday afternoon, racing to beat a July 1 deadline.
But amidst the back patting and words of compromise, both Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan signaled the battle between them is far from over. And the governor made it clear this is not a time for celebration as there’s much more work to get done.
Without a budget approved by July 1, Illinois would have entered a full-year without a spending and revenue plan. That would have switched on a big panic alarm for schools around the state, for road construction and capital projects, public universities and for the many social service agencies that have already suffered devastating cuts.
“We’ve hit the bottom. This is the low point in the evolution of Illinois and now we begin to move up — growth, value for taxpayers, better schools and a political system that is responsive at actually making good decisions for the long-term health of the state, not just short term decisions, long-term health of the state,” the governor said after the vote.
On the House floor after the stopgap measure passed 105-4, Madigan said the problem with passing budgets has been Rauner’s insistence on including “his personal agenda that hurts families.”
“Many previous efforts to implement a more comprehensive budget failed due to the governor’s insistence on the inclusion of his agenda that would drive down middle class wages and standards of living,” Madigan said.
“The difference today is that the governor has dropped his demand that his agenda be considered before a budget could be approved.”
Hours later, the Republican governor said his push for reforms “will never cease.”
Speaking outside his office, Rauner heralded legislators for compromising and working together. He put blame for the crisis on the Democratic supermajority, which adjourned in May without “passing any budget, whatsoever.”
The governor lauded Republicans for Thursday’s compromise and gave credit to two Democrats — Senate President John Cullerton and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — for “creativity” and “flexibility.”
Rauner pointedly made no mention of Madigan.
And the governor stressed that he has not abandoned his push for “fundamental reforms,” which he argues are crucial to make Illinois economically competitive.
“Let’s be clear,” Rauner said of the stopgap budget. “This is just a small step in the process of making Illinois strong and healthy and vibrant. This is a small step in the right direction. … This is a bridge to reform.”
“Reforms are essential, and our efforts to get significant reform for the people of Illinois will never cease.”
Despite the relatively quick passage of budget bills by both chambers on Thursday, the day did have its share of trepidation and drama. House Republicans requested a caucus just before lawmakers were set to debate on the appropriations bill to get the state running for the rest of the year.
At issue was a last-minute amendment filed by some members of the Legislative Black Caucus to receive $9.3 million in grants for the minority teacher scholarships, for diversifying higher education faculty, the Grow Your Own Teacher Program, and for providers for bridge programs.
But that amendment was abruptly pulled in an effort to get the appropriations bill passed. The maneuvering did produce a shouting match between Rep. William Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, and Republican legislators, whom Davis accused of applauding when the amendment was pulled.
Republicans said they were just angry about the last-minute filing and the fact that the additional funds weren’t agreed to among the leaders, working groups and the governor: “You’re not supposed to do it this way,” one member shouted across the aisle.
Prior to the vote, Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo — who is leaving the Illinois House to run for McHenry County Board chairman — criticized the bill.
“I just think the people of Illinois deserve better than this,” Franks said, adding the bill will only exacerbate the state’s problems by not providing a long-term solution.
The big stopgap appropriations bill to fund everything from education to human services to MAP grants passed the House 105-4 after a lengthy debate. That bill includes $720 million for state operational expenses and will go towards paying off the bills at state facilities and agencies. It also includes $1 billion in funding for universities, community colleges, MAP grants and other educational programs.
About $655 million will go to nine state universities, with Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University getting additional funds – getting them to 90 percent of funding they received last year.
The omnibus bill includes more than $670 million in funding for human services for grants and programs not covered by consent decree. The funding gets providers back to 65 percent of funding they received from last July through the end of the year.
The appropriations bill also includes a $250 million equity grant for low-income school districts with Chicago Public Schools to get $100 million.
On the House floor before the vote, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin lamented the year and a half struggle of the budget impasse, while thanking members for working in good faith to get a deal done.
“This hasn’t been easy, folks. It’s been a year and half before we actually agreed on something. It’s positive for the state. I’m disappointed it took that long but we’re here,” Durkin said, while also urging an end to the “finger pointing.”
Despite the passage of budget bills in the House, it wasn’t an entirely “kumbaya” moment for the House, with members still worried about what’s ahead: the post-election push to get a full-year budget in place once and for all.
Highlighting the pressure of the November elections, Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Curie noted on the House floor that the Illinois Republican Party launched robocalls targeting vulnerable Democrats just two hours before the vote. The governor later said that’s just “part of the process.”
The first stopgap budget bill passed the House 104-6. That bill will forgive $454 million that the Rauner administration borrowed from other funds last year and which were due to be repaid on Dec. 31. It also includes a continuation of a cost of living adjustment freeze for legislators.
The House voted 73-37 on another bill that will give the state the authority to give the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund $215 million on June 1, 2017, but it’s dependent on whether lawmakers pass a pension reform bill per an agreement with Rauner and the leaders.
That bill won’t be sent to the governor until a pension reform bill passes. It was the only bill passed Thursday that Rauner did not sign.
A bill to allow the Chicago Board of Education to enact a property tax levy to fund teacher pensions passed 82-29. On the House floor, State Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, stressed the bill gives Chicago “local control” to take care of its own pensions. That’s something Rauner has been pushing since he took office last year.
The bill is essentially a mandate for Chicago to find its own way to fix its short-term problems while negotiations continue between the city and state regarding pension reform.
Another bill to expand nine TIF districts in Chicago from 23 to 35 years to help fund transit projects sailed through 78-27. According to the bill analysis, some of the TIF money would go to some high-profile CTA projects, including the extension of the Red Line to 130th Street.
That bill included a lengthy debate in which some members worried it required more oversight.
After the vote, a hoarse, exhausted, but relieved Mayor Emanuel held a City Hall news conference to thank Rauner and legislative leaders for delivering the “pension parity” to CPS.
The months-long feud between old friends and former business associates had finally been put to rest — at least for now.
“The governor did step up and make, what I consider an honest compromise working through the issues,” the mayor said.
“You don’t have to worry about our personal relationship. And I don’t worry about it. What I care about is that Chicago is not considered a stepchild. We’re the economic engine of the state. We are the people that are producing jobs, investing in our future. If we’re healthy, the state is healthy. And the good news is, with this honest compromise, our kids, our taxpayers, our teachers aren’t a stepchild in this state. I think that’s a good thing and I compliment him for leading toward that solution.”
Flanked by his handpicked schools team, Emanuel closed by delivering a message to the parents who have been on pins and needles waiting to find out whether their children’s public schools would open on time this fall and whether devastating budget cuts could be kept out of the classroom.
“You can have a summer knowing, not only that the schools are going to open on time. They’re not gonna open up with any disruption to the classroom. Our financial challenges at CPS will be kept away from the classroom so you can focus on the fundamentals: our kids’ academic progress,” the mayor said.
Contributing: Fran Spielman