Illinois House passes plan to fill state’s $1.6 billion budget hole

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Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago (left) and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, talk before Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his budget address to the General Assembly in Springfield on Feb. 18. | Seth Perlman/AP file photo

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers moved Monday to plug a gaping $1.6 billion hole in this year’s state budget after weeks of tense negotiations between a Republican governor and Democratic-led Legislature over authority to transfer funds as money runs out for social programs such as subsidized day care.

Legislation proposed by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and backed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner passed the House early Tuesday afternoon with bipartisan support, including 46 of the chamber’s 47 Republicans. The Senate was to discuss the proposal later on Tuesday, with at least one key Democrat expressing optimism it would pass.

The bills would authorize Rauner to transfer $1.3 billion from programs such as roads, parks and conservation, to those deemed more of a priority for the last three months of the fiscal year.

The rest would come from a 2.25 percent across-the-board budget cut as well as giving the governor the authority to distribute $97 million to needy schools less able to absorb the reduction.

The plan also gives the governor discretion over an additional $90 million in case of unanticipated budget problems.

“Some might say it’s not pretty but it responds to the governor’s request. It responds to the problem. It ought to be supported,” Madigan said.

Heather Steans, a Senate Democratic appropriations chair, expressed optimism that it could pass with fewer than half of Democrats supporting it and most Republicans.

Senate Democrats had resisted for weeks Rauner’s request for authority to move what he calls “nonessential” funds, as Democrats feared he would take the money from programs they support. The money is desperately needed to avoid child care, prisons and court reporter programs running out of money.

At issue is the $35.7 billion budget lawmakers passed last spring that didn’t allocate enough money for expenses, leaving the $1.6 billion gap. Democrats passed the budget last spring hoping that after the November election they would make permanent a temporary income tax increase passed in 2011. The victory in the gubernatorial race of Rauner, who opposed tax increases, scuttled that hope and the tax increase rolled back on Jan. 1, from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals, and from 7 percent to 5.25 percent for corporations.

The child care program needs $300 million to operate through June. According to the governor’s office, funds will run out for after-care programs at the Department of Juvenile Justice next month if a fix isn’t approved and the state will run out of money for developmental centers and mental health facilities in May.

The fix contains some political risk for Rauner, who not only pledged to avoid cutting education funding, but spoke during the campaign last fall in opposition to taking funds from road projects.

Still, the governor wants Madigan’s proposal passed by the Legislature without delay, Rauner’s deputy chief of staff Richard Goldberg said.

“Gov. Rauner didn’t create this fiscal mess, but he is willing to work across party lines to fix it,” Goldberg said. “This is our opportunity to come together for the good of our state.”

Lawmakers begin a two-week break at the end of the week. Upon their return, the focus is expected to turn to passing a budget for next fiscal year, when the anticipated budget gap grows to $6 billion.

KERRY LESTER, Associated Press

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