Illinois Democrats took a victory lap when the General Assembly’s regular spring session came to a close this week, holding press conferences touting the session as one of the most productive in memory: a $42 billion state budget without major cuts or an income tax increase; a bevy of progressive bills heading to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk; newly drawn legislative district boundaries, completed despite the complication of late-arriving census data.
But for the minority party, each victory smacks of partisanship and defeat.
The data Democrats used for the redistricting process is “faulty,” said Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods.
“And it was pushed through in a partisan basis which Republicans were not even invited to participate,” he said. “And we couldn’t have participated right now because the data that’s being used is survey data, it’s not even the real census data, which will not be available until mid-August.”
McConchie said “all options are on the table” when asked whether Republicans will sue over the maps.
Both he and House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs called on Pritzker to veto the maps, noting that as a candidate, Pritzker pledged to reject any maps drawn by legislative leaders or their designees.
“I expected a lot more,” Durkin said of the first legislative session in decades without Michael Madigan in the position of House speaker.
Madigan’s successor, Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, struck a “harmonious” tone at the start of the session in January, Durkin said, but “nothing has changed from my perspective.”
“I will say that the way the maps were drawn and the ratio of probably 5 to 1 Democrat bills called to Republican bills is even more partisan right now under Speaker Welch than it has been under Speaker Madigan,” Durkin said.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Welch congratulated Durkin on the session.
“He & I both fight hard for the values of our caucuses, but at the end of the day we are still friends,” Welch wrote. “It’s been great working with him & the other side of the aisle. Bipartisanship is always the goal.”
With regard to the budget, McConchie said it doesn’t put enough money into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, running a large deficit after so many residents had to draw on it after losing their jobs during the pandemic.
“What we’re going to be faced with is very significantly increased taxes, perhaps the biggest tax increases on businesses in Illinois history, coming down the road over the next three years,” he said.
Asked about it Tuesday, Pritkzer said that billions in federal relief funds remains available, and that he’s hopeful the federal government will come forward with additional assistance for states with troubled unemployment insurance funds.
Durkin bemoaned the lack of time members of his party had to examine the nearly 3,000-page spending plan before they had to vote on it (all Republicans in both chambers voted no).
“We were shut out of negotiations,” Durkin said.
Pritzker on Tuesday said he’ll sign the budget into law, calling it responsible and balanced.
“Republicans like to bad mouth the state and yet they’re the ones who wanted to irresponsibly spend one-time American Rescue Plan dollars to paper over our structural deficit,” Pritzker said. “In contrast, we Democrats are investing in priorities that will grow and revitalize our economy, improving our fiscal outlook dramatically and reducing tax expenditures on the wealthiest corporations.”
Durkin pushed back on that categorization.
“The governor believes it’s fiscally responsible? Then he has to explain why we’re giving the legislature a pay raise, why we’re doubling the district office allotment that’s not necessary, also explain why he’s using a billion dollars for Democrat pork projects which is nothing more than a slush fund,” Durkin said.
Republicans are outranked 18 to 41 in the Senate and 73 to 45 in the Illinois House.
Democrats hold supermajorities in Springfield – enough to clear the three-fifths hurdle needed to override a gubernatorial veto and to pass laws incurring debt.
“Chicago Tonight” also invited to the discussion the General Assembly’s top Democrats, Welch and Senate President Don Harmon, but neither accepted.
Meanwhile, Durkin was skeptical of a new vaccine lottery that Pritzker hinted will soon debut.
During an event in Peoria on Wednesday, the governor said: “We’re looking forward to potentially doing a vaccine lottery, as you’ve heard about in other states.”
Awarding money or prizes to vaccine recipients will be possible after Pritzker signs the budget plan, which contains a provision (SB 2017 HA2) authorizing the state’s lottery and public health agencies to create a “coronavirus vaccine incentive public health promotion,” as it is “necessary for the public interest, safety and welfare.”
Durkin said he was unaware of details about a vaccine lottery.
“Vaccination lotteries just doesn’t smell right. It doesn’t seem right. I think we should stay on the path of encouraging people to get vaccinated as soon as they can,” Durkin said.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky