Rauner, Democratic leaders shake hands and make law
By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The state Senate on Thursday sent a roughly $1.6 billion budget patch to Gov. Bruce Rauner so the state can limp through the rest of its fiscal year.
By votes of 32-26 with one member not voting, the Senate approved a pair of bills that are the result of weeks of bipartisan talks between the legislative leaders and the new Republican governor.
Included in the package, which Rauner signed into law Thursday evening, is urgently needed money for childcare, prison staffing and court reporters.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bills in the Senate, said they were no one’s ideal solution but did address the problem and mark “a new era in shared governance.”
All 20 Republican members of the Senate supported passage.
Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, thanked her fellow legislators and saluted the governor, saying Rauner “came into a very partisan and rancorous situation, and after many weeks of working — and tearing his hair out, I’m sure — has brought together both chambers and both parties.”
The governor visited the floor of the Senate shortly after the vote and shook hands with senators. The desk of Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, was his first stop.
Rauner also issued a statement in which he thanked the Legislature and said he hoped the compromise package was a sign of a good working relationship to come.
“By choosing to make difficult decisions on a bipartisan basis, the General Assembly is helping set a new tone for what can be achieved in Springfield,” Rauner said.
Just shy of $1.4 billion of the money will come from transfers from funds with cash in them that can be pushed into the state’s general fund.
The other big element of the package is a nearly across the board state budget cut of 2.25 percent.
The measure includes neither tax increases nor new borrowing.
The state found itself short of money in the second half of its budget year because the previous General Assembly and then Gov. Pat Quinn approved a nearly $36 billion budget that was going through money faster than the state was taking it in.
Among the transfers of concern to many was a total of about $350 million from state highway and local road projects.
Sen. John M. Sullivan, D-Rushville, was among those opposing the legislation, saying the impact on state highways and local roads would be too great.
“It’s not surplus money (being transferred),” Sullivan said. “This money is allocated (and) authorized for construction projects for this upcoming construction season, as well as for projects that have been started the last several years” and are scheduled for funding as part of their continuation.
Sullivan said the amount of money moved out of road building and repair money was more than double previous diversions.
Steans, in answer, read a memo from the Illinois Department of Transportation that said while the fund sweeps were more than IDOT would like, they would still leave the department able to qualify for federal matching funds and end the year in the black.
Primary and secondary schools will lose about $150 million to the budget cuts.
However, the legislation also gives the Illinois State Board of Education $97 million that may be distributed to districts that cannot make it through the school year without help.
The package also gives Rauner another $90 million to cover situations in which a state agency might be endangered from fulfilling its core mission.
Both the governor’s office and the legislative leaders have acknowledged the budget ahead, which will cover July 1, 2015 through June 30 of 2016, presents a challenge.
The state’s temporary income tax increased expired the first of this year and Rauner has not proposed any new taxes.
Rauner’s proposed budget, which is heavy on cuts, has put him at odds with legislative Democrats, especially in areas such as social services and higher education.