The historic gridlock that has plagued Illinois since the summer of 2015 continues to hold its grip, further testing the fortitude of the state’s strained social service network, public universities and government agencies.
The Illinois House ended the regular legislative session Wednesday night – Illinois’ 700th day without a budget – without voting on a budget plan.
Gov. Bruce Rauner called it “a complete dereliction of duty” and a “tragic failure.”
Both chambers did, however, approve a revamped school funding formula (Senate Bill 1) derided by Republicans as a bailout for Chicago Public Schools but praised by education advocates as “a historic triumph for students and ends an era of Illinois having the most inequitable school funding system in the nation.” Also heading to the governor’s desk: House Bill 1774 that would replace CPS’s appointed school board with an elected one (sponsor Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, says CPS is the only district “that does not have democracy in its governance”), a minimum wage hike and a measure partially provoked by President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown that would prevent local police from detaining anyone based solely on their citizenship status.
Consumer advocates are disappointed that Senate Bill 1839 is heading to Rauner—it paves the way for AT&T to abandon landline telephone service, and also increases a surcharge on cell phone bills to pay for 911 call center upgrades.
Senate President John Cullerton says the lack of a budget deal is “very frustrating.”
Democrats in the Illinois Senate passed a complete budget – backed by $5.4 billion in new taxes – last week, but the Illinois House did not take it up, nor did the House present its own plan.
“People don’t like cuts to programs, people don’t like to pay taxes. But if we don’t solve this impasse, both of those are going to get worse. We’re going to have to have more cuts and higher taxes,” Cullerton said. “We’re going to start to see some real pain now. We’re going to start to see downgrades. We don’t have any funding for schools. We don’t have any funding for higher ed, and a bunch of social programs. We don’t have a budget. So it’s going to have to come to a head.”
Instead, House Speaker Michael Madigan said that the House will hold public budget hearings in June, beginning with one in Chicago on June 8.
Rauner, who frequently holds media events throughout the state, says the hearings are designed merely to manage reporters and phony headlines.
“Please, members of the General Assembly and majority: Do not travel around the state holding sham hearings about a balanced budget, sham hearings that if they were to be meaningful at all could have and should have been held last winter,” he said.
Rauner called on legislators to “stay in Springfield, come back to Springfield” but declined to say whether he’ll use his power to call them back for a special session.
Madigan and Cullerton can also call lawmakers back to the capitol.
The task of passing a budget is more difficult from here until January, as a supermajority of legislators is needed for any bill to immediately take effect. They have a month before a new fiscal year begins on July 1. Credit ratings agencies have warned of downgrades if Illinois enters a third year without a complete budget.
“Our desire is to adopt a balanced budget. Our desire is to work cooperatively with the governor,” Madigan said.
However, Madigan said that some of his members are wary of Rauner after watching the Senate’s experience. Republicans had been working with Democrats on a “grand bargain,” but talks fell apart, leaving Democrats to go it alone.
The Illinois Republican Party, which counts Rauner as its major funder, subsequently began robocalls attacking Democrats.
Rauner’s campaign on Wednesday night sent an email to supporters, saying “Democrats sent a strong message to Illinois families this evening: they are willing to push our state further into debt and destruction just to continue the corrupt, self-serving agendas of Speaker Madigan and the Chicago Machine.”
“Some of our people are concerned – having observed how the governor worked with the Senate Democrats – where he would negotiate then back away, negotiate, back away. There is a concern where they just don’t have a high level of confidence in how the governor has conducted himself,” Madigan said.
Madigan says that nonetheless, Democrats have made efforts to meet Rauner in the middle. The speaker’s office sent a steady stream of press releases in recent days after passing measures that touch on Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.”
Republicans say Madigan is going out of his way to create a paper trail to make it appear like he isn’t – as Rauner often accuses him of doing – “standing in the way of reform.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin says it’s a pattern: Democrats can proclaim victory by passing a measure in one chamber, only for it to be ignored in the other – meaning it has no chance of becoming law.
Other measures that were part of the “grand bargain” are going to the governor’s desk, including bills that make it easier for local governments to consolidate (Senate Bill 3), that loosen state purchasing rules (Senate Bill 8), and one that would make way for Rauner to sell the James R. Thompson Center (Senate Bill 886), the seat of government in downtown Chicago.
“Despite all of these things along the way, where the governor was fighting us, where he was saying things to make us stop, promoting ideas that just aren’t accurate, or even putting out half-truths, I would go as far to say as lies about what we’ve done in the Senate. We acted responsibly,” Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said.
Rauner says he will sign the procurement measure into law, although it doesn’t go far enough. He had a similar take on the pension overhaul, though it has not cleared the House. The governor’s office is against the Thompson Center plan, and has accused Madigan of “hijack(ing) the bill to steer $50 million to the city of Chicago while putting the interests of a close friend and lobbyist ahead of Illinois taxpayers.”
But leading business groups on Wednesday united to call the 2017 legislative session “one of the worst for employers,” and said that many of the measures Madigan is claiming as compromises that fit Rauner’s plan for growth will instead hurt the state’s economic competitiveness.
The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the state and Chicagoland chambers of commerce released a “dirty dozen” bills they consider most harmful.
Several of them are headed to Rauner’s desk after passing both chambers:
• Senate Bill 81: Incrementally raises the minimum wage to $15 by 2022
• House Bill 160 (though the measure is on a parliamentary hold): Establishes a $5,000 fee on businesses for the “privilege” of doing business in Illinois while also creating or extending various tax credits
• House Bill 2525: Workers’ compensation insurance rate review
• House Bill 2622: Creates a state workers’ compensation enterprise, the Illinois Employers Mutual Insurance Company (paid for by a surcharge on workers’ compensation private insurers) that businesses say will “disrupt” the marketplace “without a reason to exist”
Others have not reached that point yet, and only got through either the House or Senate:
• House Bill 2771: Requires employers provide paid sick leave to workers
• House Bill 156: Homestead exemption that businesses say shifts property tax burdens to them
• Senate Bill 1502 and House Bill 3449: “right to know” and geolocation legislation that proponents say protects consumers’ online privacy rights but which employers say is overly burdensome
• House Bill 3558: Requires firms to pay back any grant funds if it moves a job out of state
Meanwhile, Comptroller Susana Mendoza warns of “dire consequences” and pointed to a recent warning from credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s that called the budget crisis a “man-made byproduct of policy ultimatums placed upon the state's budget processes.”
Mendoza says Illinois’ backlog of bills that it can’t afford to pay has reached an epic $14.5 billion dollars, and continues to grow.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky
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