Illinois (Kind Of) Passes First Budget in Almost 2 Years
By Monique Garcia, Kim Geiger and Hal Dardick
Illinois political leaders cut a deal on a makeshift budget Thursday to keep state government afloat for six months, ensure schools open this fall and rescue the financially struggling Chicago Public Schools -- a temporary reprieve to the stalemate that's gripped the Capitol for a year and a half.
Quite temporary, as it turned out.
Minutes after the bill cleared the House, Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan took to the microphone and needled his chief nemesis, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"We have seen with previous successful budget efforts that we can come together, achieve compromise and pass a budget when the governor's demands relative to his personal agenda that hurts families are dropped," Madigan said. "That happened again today."
A few hours later, Rauner emerged from days of sequestration in his Capitol office and doled out praise to Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and Mayor Rahm Emanuel for their "flexibility" and "creativity" in the tricky negotiations. Left out of the accolades was Madigan, the guy whose power Rauner is trying to erode this fall by spending millions more of his fortune on legislative campaigns.
Despite claims the budget deal would help build trust following months of scathing attacks from both sides, Rauner vowed he was not abandoning the economic agenda he's made a condition of a more permanent budget deal. Madigan maintained Democrats would stand their ideological ground.
That means, at least for now, the front lines of the political battle will shift from the Capitol dome to parade routes, doorsteps and mailboxes in House and Senate districts statewide.
The budget agreement came amid intense pressure to ease the dysfunction as neither side wanted to be blamed if children couldn't go to school, road construction projects stopped, prisoners rioted for lack of food and the state's most vulnerable continued to lose care.
Supporters were quick to note that the heavy lifting on a more complete budget lies ahead. The legislation does nothing to reduce the state's $8 billion bill backlog and is likely to add to it because there are no new ways to pay for the additional spending.
Faced with the awkward position of taking a victory lap over an outcome that wasn't exactly what he had sought -- and one that included none of his economic agenda -- Rauner offered a jumbled assessment. He first hailed it as a "grand bargain" and a "grand compromise" before pivoting to a warning that the deal was incomplete and "not a solution to our long-term challenges."
"This is not a budget. This is not a balanced budget," Rauner said, standing outside his Capitol office surrounded by Republican lawmakers. "This is not a solution to our long-term challenges. This is a bridge to reform. That's what this is."
For his part, Madigan also said there was "more to do" and indicated he's open to further compromise on a full-year spending plan, but it came with a warning that Democrats would remain opposed to portions of what Rauner calls his "turnaround agenda."
"My priority, and the priority of House Democrats, continues to be the passage and implementation of a comprehensive, full-year state budget that fulfills the promises to Illinois' middle class, the elderly, children and most vulnerable," said Madigan, who has been speaker all but two years since 1983. "This can be achieved if we can again work together toward compromise, and instead of focusing on agendas that would hurt Illinois' middle class, focus on a budget that improves the quality of life for all Illinoisans."
Rauner and his Republican allies tried mightily to push back on the notion that Democrats had succeeded in extracting what the governor has termed a "bailout" for CPS. But in the end, the package of bills contained about $100 million in extra state aid for the district and a promise of an additional $202 million to pay Chicago teachers' pensions. The pension help is tied to the idea that lawmakers and Rauner will be able to craft a broader plan for dealing with the state's own pension problems.
In addition to financial help from the state, Emanuel's hand-picked CPS board was given the authority to levy yet another property tax on Chicago residents, one that could raise an additional $250 million for the district for pensions. The mayor also got legislators to authorize new special taxing districts for the city that would allow it to raise money for mass transit projects.
Emanuel, who used to vacation with Rauner before their offices pitted them against each other, thanked the governor for taking time to "right some historic wrongs" on Chicago school funding.
"In my view, progress beat out partisan politics, and the public came out ahead," Emanuel said.
"What I care about is that Chicago is not considered a stepchild. We are the economic engine of the state. We are the people that are producing jobs, investing in our future. And if we're healthy, the state is healthy. And the good news is with this honest compromise, our kids, our taxpayers and our teachers aren't a stepchild in the state. And I think that's a good thing, and I compliment (Rauner) for leading toward that solution."
The budget passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support, and Rauner swiftly signed it into law. Lawmakers held off sending the governor the bill on the city's transit taxing districts. They also held onto the CPS pension bill because Rauner wants a separate measure to cut state employee retirement costs before he'll sign it.
There was opposition to the budget from some in both parties who argued it would only worsen the state's financial condition and delay a host of tough decisions.
"We will have acted, but we will not have acted responsibly," said Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights.
Essentially, what Rauner and lawmakers agreed to do was to raid a number of special funds to collect enough money to spread throughout state government to keep it running, while also appropriating a sizable chunk of the state's income tax revenue to make up the difference.
While Republicans hailed it as a plan that doesn't raise taxes, early indications were that the money authorized could exceed what the state has available to spend. And aside from elementary and secondary education spending, the bill covers costs only through the first half of the budget year.
Still, the measure spreads financial relief throughout many corners of state government, making it possible to pay down debts owed to social service agencies, and provides a much-needed cash infusion to universities.
Public schools were the biggest winners, with all elementary and secondary school districts in the state standing to receive as much or more than they got this year. Additionally, the state will spend an extra $80 million on early childhood education and districts that serve low-income students would get a share of a $250 million poverty grant, with CPS estimated to receive about $131 million from those two funds.
About $670 million was set aside to pay for social services, which amounts to roughly 65 percent of the cost of those services from last July through the end of this year. Providers of immigration services, autism services and youth programs, which had been frozen out of state spending the past 12 months, would become eligible for payments.
It was still unclear, however, which social service providers would get paid and when, given that there isn't enough money to cover all of their bills. Rauner aides did not respond when asked how the administration plans to tackle that problem.
The deal also provides relief to government agencies that had been struggling to keep operations going. It sets aside about $720 million to cover costs at state facilities for utilities, food, medical care, gas and repairs to the state's vehicle fleet.
About $1 billion will be funneled to the state's higher education system, with about $655 million going to the nine state universities, $114 million to community colleges including City Colleges of Chicago, and $151 million to cover tuition grants for low-income students that were promised last year but never paid.
Much of the spending would be paid for by sweeping money from special funds. That includes forgiving $454 million that the Rauner administration borrowed from other funds last year.
And as they have done in past years, lawmakers will forgo their annual cost-of-living raise. Lawmakers already have had a delay in their paychecks after Republican Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced in April that she would be adding lawmaker salaries to the backlog of bills. Legislators haven't received a paycheck since, and at least one contended Thursday that the achievements of the day should be enough to get the paychecks flowing again.
"I know this is something that many of us think is taboo, we shouldn't say, but as legislators we should get paid for the work that we do," said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood. "So I hope that the work we're doing here today would allow us an opportunity to continue to take care of our own homes."
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