House Dems muscle through spending bills, unleashing GOP anger

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SPRINGFIELD — Spurring Republican outrage, the Democratic-led Illinois House passed more than $38 billion worth of spending bills Thursday without a clear-cut way to pay for it all.

Thursday’s numbingly long legislative slog ended with 73 appropriations bills being passed despite unrelenting complaints from Republicans, who accused Democrats of signing off on an out-of-balance 2015 budget. The GOP claimed the package contained a $4 billion revenue hole caused by uncertainty over whether income-tax rates will drop or stay the same in January.

“The budget passed by Democrats today ignores the constitution and ignores the taxpayers. It’s what is wrong with state government,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said after the nearly 11-hour round of budget voting. “Nothing in this budget will put the unemployed back to work. It will do just the opposite while the migration of families and business will continue.” 

In a late development Thursday filled with political intrigue, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, invoked a rare parliamentary maneuver that blocks the spending bills from being sent to the Senate, keeping them under House control.

Before that move, the House debated roughly $38 billion in spending bills for every facet of state government, passing them all in a series of tight, partisan roll calls.

The day offered no clarity on whether House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was making any headway toward reaching the necessary 60 House votes from his 71-member caucus to keep the temporary income-tax increases from rolling back in January. At one point Thursday, the Capitol Fax political blog estimated that Madigan’s headcount stood at a mere 53.

“He hasn’t given me a number, but I think we’re a decent ways away,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said late Thursday, when asked how far his boss had to go to reach the 60-vote threshold.

In 2011, House and Senate Democrats passed what was then described as a temporary hike in the personal income tax from 3 to 5 percent for individuals and from 4.8 to 7 percent for corporations. 

A $34.5 billion revenue cap established in February by the House came with the expectation that those higher tax rates would drop in January 2015.

“A vote for this budget is also a vote for this tax increase,” said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who voted against the spending bills. “Let’s be honest about it.”

Franks, who has never voted for a tax increase, said it would be a “cruel hoax” to give “imaginary money” to “real people with real problems.”

One of the first bills to come before the House Thursday was a $6.7 billion spending plan for elementary and secondary education.

Its sponsor, Rep. William “Will” Davis, D-Homewood, who chairs the House Appropriations-Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, shot down the Republican complaints and defended the Democrats’ fiscal approach.

“We all indicate K through 12 education is an important part of what we do. While some have suggested this is ‘backwards, upside down, cart before the horse,’ when it comes to investing for our kids, we should put a high number out there and figure out how we get to that number,” Davis told colleagues.

Republicans peppered the various Democratic sponsors of the spending bills with questions about how their proposals would be paid for and typically got non-answers.

“I’m not going to tell you how we’re going to pay for it,” Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, said at one point when asked by Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, how his legislation supporting the Prisoner Review Board would be funded.

Republicans also injected some election-year politics into the debate, focusing on the federal investigation of Gov. Pat Quinn’s now-disbanded Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and asking whether anti-violence spending tucked into some of Thursday’s budget bills represented a continuation of that botched 2010 program.

In one instance, Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, zeroed in on a mysterious $15 million grant program for at-risk communities that Democrats inserted in the state Department of Labor budget with little to no explanation of its purpose.

“Can I have the criteria for qualifying for this grant program?” Ives asked Arroyo, who sponsored that spending bill, as well.

After a brief back and forth with Ives, Arroyo answered, “We’ll develop the program after we pass this budget.”

“You cannot make this stuff up,” Ives shot back in disgust. “I hope people are watching. This is appalling. This sickens me.”

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