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Rauner says Dems’ ‘lifeline bill’ would sink state in debt, taxes

Gov. Bruce Rauner takes to Facebook on Wednesday. Photo from Facebook.

As House Democrats wrapped up a caucus to discuss a “lifeline bill” to send more than $800 million in special funds to social service agencies, public universities and domestic violence shelters that have run dry during the historic budget impasse, Gov. Bruce Rauner released a Facebook video saying he’ll oppose any “stopgap” measure without a permanent property tax freeze.

“We cannot accept a [House Speaker Michael] Madigan stopgap without a permanent property tax freeze to protect the hard working taxpayers of Illinois,” Rauner said in the video, while urging the Democratic supermajority to reconsider the bill.

The governor also blamed “stopgap” budgets on higher state debt and higher taxes down the road: “They keep our universities, community colleges and social service agencies on the verge of collapse with no permanent funding to keep their lines of credit intact.”

He also blamed Madigan for stopgap budgets that he said are meant to force a tax hike. And said he’d only support a tax hike with his preferred reforms, including a permanent property tax freeze.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Democrats were watching the Facebook video during caucus.

“It’s reminiscent of the big staircase press conference he had at the end of May a year ago, where he denounced everybody. And then at the end of the day, he signed a temporary spending plan that included $400 million in spending for higher education that he had left out,” Brown said of the video. “I think history may serve as an example here. We are hopeful of getting a full budget done but that appears to be an elusive goal.”

Brown was referring to a news conference Rauner held on the Capitol staircase, surrounded by GOP lawmakers, in which he called the 2016 spring session a “stunning failure” while accusing Madigan of holding the state hostage. The Illinois Senate — just before the midnight adjournment — shot down a budget plan that was approved by the Illinois House. In June 2016, Rauner signed a stopgap budget and school funding bill — while calling it no solution, and not a balanced budget: “This is a bridge to reform. That’s what this is.”

That partial budget ran out on Jan. 1 — leaving social service agencies and universities in the lurch of the historic budget impasse. Since then, the Illinois Senate has tried to pass a “grand bargain” package that included some of Rauner’s preferred reforms. But Senate Republicans, sans their leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, deserted the plan because Rauner believed it didn’t go far enough.

Rauner supports a budget proposal introduced last week by Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. Brady’s plan includes more than $5 billion in spending cuts.  Meanwhile, a group of Democratic lawmakers launched their “comeback agenda,” which includes a focus on job creation, education, improving community health and safety and limiting the influence of money in politics. The group wants to replace the state’s flat income tax rate with a graduated one.

The House “lifeline bill,” actually an amendment to another bill, would send $750 million from special funds to human services, higher education, MAP grants, community colleges and violence prevention.

The Facebook video was released as House Democrats wrapped up a caucus to discuss the measure. The amendment passed the appropriations committee Wednesday afternoon and is expected to be brought to a vote on the House floor on Thursday.

The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, offered up the measure as an “immediate and tangible” way to help those cut off from funding. It appropriates $258 million to human service entities, including $6.6 million for domestic violence shelters  — while also offering a provision for those who received money from the prior stopgap but because of contractual delays weren’t able to fully utilize those funds. It also appropriates $559 million to higher education, the largest part of that going to MAP grants to fund one semester and to get students through half of the next semester.

Harris said funds would come from the Commitment to Human Services Fund — which is fed through state income taxes. It also utilizes funds from the Educational Assistance Fund, which is fed through income taxes but also gaming revenues.

Harris’ amendment provides $36 million for community colleges and $50 million for career and technical education, which Harris said was a maintenance payment required by the federal government. He said not paying that amount would put education funding at risk.

Public universities would be given $159 million — the universities getting the same amount as last year’s stopgap — with the addition of funds for Governors State University and Northeastern Illinois University, which Harris said are shifting from “regular operation mode to an educational crisis.” Illinois State University would get $9.5 million; Southern Illinois University $26.3 million; the University of Illinois, $85.4 million.

During committee, House Republicans questioned the timing of the measure. State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Rochelle, asked if it was a sign Democrats were “throwing in the towel” on a full budget.

“I don’t think the state of Illinois can live off stopgaps — on just stopgaps chained one after another on an unpredictable time frame,” Demmer said.

He also questioned whether Democrats are anticipating that the budget impasse will stretch into next year.

“If all four caucuses and the governor’s office are able to work together as we did last year — we were able to produce results. So I would still be hopeful of a process like that,” Harris said.