Illinois Has 10 Days to Do What It Hasn't in 3 Years: Pass a Full, Balanced Budget
By Doug Finke
Illinois lawmakers are about to find out if a 10-day special session will accomplish what three years of regular session days have failed to do -- produce a full budget for the state that is balanced with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
For Springfield-area lawmakers, the prospects of that happening predictably fall along party lines and also hinge on the plans of House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
"Our caucus has sort of laid out a marker," said Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove. "I think at this point, the next move is going to be that of the speaker. Even if we're called back into session, once we're there, the speaker will determine what bills, if any, are called."
Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said that with House and Senate Republicans laying out a budget plan last week, most of the legislature has put itself on record for what it wants and can support.
"You've got three of the four caucuses (including Senate Democrats) in the legislature that have for the first time since I've been here actually staked out their positions on both revenue and spending and what reforms are needed," he said. "I'll be very interested to see what House Democrats come up with."
Butler said Madigan should call House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs and say, "Let's sit down and talk about where we're at with your proposal and where we'd like to go with things."
Up to governor?
The proposal House and Senate Republicans laid out last week included workers' compensation changes, term limits, pension reform, school funding reform and a spending plan that cut more than a plan approved by the Senate Democrats.
The Republicans said if those items were approved, they'd consider the tax hike proposal approved by the Senate Democrats, although with changes. The Republicans want the tax hikes to take effect July 1 rather than being retroactive to Jan. 1. They also want to limit the income tax increase to four years, rather than make it permanent as the Senate Democrats' bill does.
Gov. Bruce Rauner said he supports the GOP plan.
Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, said she's skeptical about the Republican support, particularly from Rauner.
"He said the same thing about the 'grand bargain.' And everyone was sure he was going to sign off on the grand bargain, and then he didn't," Scherer said. "I really think that we're going to get this settled when the governor decides that it's time to get a budget."
Scherer also complained about the "huge tax hike" that would be part of either side's plan.
"I'm all about doing a budget, but I'm not about doing it on the backs of the hard-working families in my district," she said.
Instead of a general tax hike, Scherer said she wants more revenue to come from closing business tax breaks and enacting a surcharge on incomes above $1 million.
Butler has said repeatedly that a tax hike needs to be part of achieving a balanced budget, along with spending cuts and the type of reforms Rauner has said are needed to grow the economy. He stopped short, though, of saying he would vote for the Senate Democrats' revenue proposal.
"At the end of the day, when a vote comes up for a tax increase, I'm going to take a long, hard look at it," Butler said. "I would imagine the Senate revenue proposal would change if it's up for a vote in the House, so it's kind of tough for me to say today."
Jimenez said a final plan will have to include $3 billion to $5 billion in budget cuts along with some tax increases.
"As long as there are cuts and there is continued discussions about reforms, I could be for a revenue bill," Jimenez said. "In terms of what that ends up being really depends on how much we can cut."
June 30 deadline
Jimenez said she and many other rank-and-file House Republicans have not yet been briefed on all of the details of the $36 billion spending plan Durkin and others presented earlier in the week. The Republican plan makes about $1.3 billion more in cuts than the Senate budget bill. Jimenez said House Republicans are supposed to get a more thorough briefing once the special session begins on Wednesday.
The fate of that Republican spending plan could itself be questionable. It was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. However, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has said he isn't inclined to take up that plan unless Republicans also introduce their own tax-hike bill to balance it.
Brady said it would be a mistake for the Senate not to consider the GOP plan.
"The fact of the matter is the House did not pass (the Senate) budget," Brady said. "We introduced a budget we know the House Republicans can support. We believe we need to call a vote on our budget."
When lawmakers return to Springfield on Wednesday, Rauner plans to keep them meeting each day until June 30, the end of the fiscal year. If a budget isn't passed by then, the state's bond rating could be reduced to junk status, state construction projects will be shut down, and lottery players will no longer be able to play the Powerball and Mega Millions games.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill; Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond; and Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, did not respond to calls for comments on this story.
(c)2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.