SPRINGFIELD — After 701 days without a state budget, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said Wednesday that Democrats need more time.
The political blame game continued as lawmakers ended the spring session without a budget deal.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner called the blown deadline “a complete dereliction of duty” by the Democratic majority of the General Assembly and a “tragic failure to serve the people of Illinois.”
But Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, pinned the impasse on “the governor’s reckless strategy of holding the budget hostage to create leverage for his corporate agenda.”
The House adopted a resolution that members would be in “continuous session” over the summer to try to reach a deal. Beginning Thursday, a three-fifths majority will be required to pass bills rather than a simple majority.
That means any budget plan will now need 71 votes to pass and require Republican support.
The political jockeying came amid state Republican Party robocalls targeting Democratic House members to pressure them to pass property-tax relief alongside an income-tax hike to fund state operations.
That’s Rauner’s preferred budget recipe, and he has said that pairing the two is the only way he’d approve a spending plan.
So the spring session ends with no budget deal in sight, leaving social service agencies and state universities high and dry. Their funding stalled when a partial budget expired on Jan. 1. It has led to delayed payments for school districts that say they’re not sure their doors can stay open this fall. And it has led to layoffs and big cuts to universities.
The state’s bill backlog has climbed to $14.5 billion.
House Democrats on Wednesday said they needed more time to try to reach a budget deal with their chamber — and ultimately with the governor.
Madigan emerged from a lengthy House Democratic caucus on Wednesday afternoon, about eight hours before the end of session, saying his members would work through June to try to pass a balanced budget.
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, whom Madigan appointed as a chief budget negotiator, will hold public hearings, with the first scheduled for June 8 in Chicago.
“Our plan is for the House, Democrats and Republicans, to work through the month of June, [to] continue to work on budget-making, working on a balanced budget,” Madigan said. “We will invite and will expect participation by all members of the House.”
The speaker seemed to blame the governor, saying the lack of Republican support for the Illinois Senate’s “grand bargain” budget package had diminished Democrats’ confidence that a deal could be reached.
Senate Democrats have accused Rauner of sabotaging their budget plan by pulling off Republican votes. The bipartisan plan was initially seen as glimmer of hope during the budget stalemate. But Republicans jumped ship, instead reiterating the governor’s complaint that the GOP shouldn’t approve an income tax hike with just a two-year property tax freeze.
The Senate last week cleared three budget bills. While the revenue bill that included an income-tax hike made it through a House committee this week, House Democrats said there was more work to do to try to get support for the package.
Frustrated Senate Democrats said they had acted responsibly in moving budget bills over to the House. And they noted all components of the bipartisan package passed out of the Senate. A minimum wage hike bill was removed from the “grand bargain” package, but the Senate did approve a House measure.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton noted that it’s difficult to get support for cuts to programs and taxes: “If we don’t solve this impasse, both of those are going to get worse. We’re going to have to have more cuts and higher taxes.” He said he was disappointed that Senate Republicans, who helped draft budget bills, didn’t vote to support them.
“Obviously I’m ready to continue to negotiate, continue to work to try to pass a budget because we’re going to start to see some real pain now,” Cullerton said. “We’re going to start to see downgrades. We don’t have any funding for schools. We don’t have any funding for higher ed, and much of social services. We don’t have a budget. So it’s going to have to come to a head. It should have come to a head tonight, but it didn’t.”
Rauner cited the Senate’s passage of procurement reform and pension reform as signs of compromise, while also saying they “didn’t go as far” as he would have liked. The governor, however, said he’d support those measures. The Senate pension reform measure hasn’t cleared the House. The governor said negotiations stalled over term limits, local government consolidation, workers’ compensation and a property tax freeze.
“They know darn well where we are apart, what we need to do to cut, what we need to do to reform the system. The majority in the House knows darn well what needs to be done. They’re not doing it,” the governor said.
Rauner — who faces re-election next year — called reforms he wants to grow more jobs, as well as the property-tax freeze, “not partisan” and necessary. And he urged lawmakers to stay in Springfield and continue to negotiate on a budget deal.
He called the planned public hearings “sham hearings” meant to create headlines.
“What we can never do is give up. The people of Illinois demand change. We need to go in a better direction on jobs and taxes and schools,” Rauner said. “And we cannot let the House majority with their special interest groups dictate terms. We just need to stay strong, get a balanced budget with changes to fix our system.”