House Dems reject Rauner’s proposed cuts to human services

SHARE House Dems reject Rauner’s proposed cuts to human services
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House Speaker Michael Madigan (pictured in December 2014) said Wednesday’s votes were being held to “permit us to have a full and open discussion and debate on this critical question.” | Seth Perlman/AP

SPRINGFIELD — Democrats who control the Illinois House sent a clear message Wednesday to GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner that they oppose his proposed cuts to human services in next year’s budget, foreshadowing what could be weeks of tense negotiations before the Legislature’s scheduled May 31 adjournment.

The caucus that controls the chamber with a veto-proof supermajority first moved to vote down an overall human services budget proposed by Rauner in February that would cut Medicaid by $1.5 billion and reduce mental health and addiction treatment programs, among others. Then, dragging out the process long into the afternoon, Democrats voted to spend more than the governor proposed on individual programs and services within the human services budget.

RELATED: Mary Mitchell: Rauner, General Assembly playing chicken over mental health money

The votes come on the heels of a lengthy hearing convened by House Speaker Michael Madigan on Tuesday that focused heavily on how Democrats believe the governor’s proposed workers compensation overhaul would hurt workers.

Changes to workers compensation, as well as to the state’s unemployment insurance system and to the legal system are key components of Rauner’s pro-business agenda he wants approved by lawmakers in exchange for consenting to new sources of revenue to close a $6 billion budget gap next year. Without that compromise, Rauner has presented a budget that is balanced entirely by slashing spending.

“We cannot balance the budget simply with cuts . . . and must not balance the budget on the backs of the most frail and vulnerable,” House Human Services Appropriations Chair Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat said.

Madigan said the votes were being held to “permit us to have a full and open discussion and debate on this critical question.”

Republicans stated their objection by voting “present” against the bills, which they said should have been more thoroughly vetted by the chamber.

“This is an absolute sham. A carry-over from yesterday’s sham,” GOP state Rep. Ron Sandack said. “It is an embarrassment to me that we’re wasting our time . . . over these show votes. [It’s] political gamesmanship.”

Both sides spent months negotiating how to fix to a comparably smaller $1.6 billion hole in this year’s budget, which happened because lawmakers didn’t account for the mid-January expiration of the state’s temporary income tax increase.

While Rauner in recent public appearances has acknowledged the spring session could extend into the summer, his spokesman dismissed Wednesday’s votes as “political theater.”

“Governor Rauner stands ready to work with Democrats to pass real structural changes to our government and enact a balanced budget,” Lance Trover said in an emailed statement. “We ask Democrats to meet the governor at the negotiating table and help turn our state around.”

KERRY LESTER, Associated Press

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