Dems, GOP continue House budget scrum

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Democrats and Republicans tussled again in the Illinois House on Wednesday as the Democrats continued to build a fiscal year 2016 human services budget without traditional negotiation.

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) started the fireworks Wednesday afternoon as he introduced more floor amendments to an existing budget measure, House Bill 4141.

First up was an $83 million appropriation to provide home services for the disabled.

Republicans rose to object.

Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) questioned why, considering an important standing committee on the very issue had just met and not addressed this subject, it was now coming before the full House.

The matter is of such importance “each and every one of us really should have the opportunity to express support or lack thereof for supports offered people with disabilities,” Harris said.

Nonsense, said Sandack.

“The tortured process, or lack of process, obviously continues,” Sandack said. “It is a disservice to the people of the state of Illinois to go through this sham of a budget.”

Republicans contend without a better idea of both priorities and revenues — both for the state as a whole and for human services — passing legislation to fund individual line items or programs, was wrong.

“This process is terrible, it’s unbelievable,” argued Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. (R-Mundelein).

Voters who sent a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature to Springfield want shared and responsible government, Sullivan said.

“It’s time for us to come together, to work together and put something together that makes sense and will move the needle forward,” Sullivan added.

Harris reminded his colleagues the program in question serves about 10,000 people and keeps the state in compliance with a consent decree that settled a federal case. And, he argued, there is nothing inherently wrong starting a budget process by determining top priorities or needs.

Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) argued that by committing $83 million to a particular cause at this point, the House was disregarding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s funding priorities and might short programs and staffing elsewhere in state government — perhaps in other human services or in education, prisons or some other area.

“We had a chance to vote on the governor’s proposed budget and, if my memory serves me, zero people voted for the governor’s proposed budget. He did not get one vote for his budget. It is now our opportunity to come back and present alternatives,” Harris answered.

Harris’ reference was to a House vote a week ago, when Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) personally sponsored an amendment for a human services budget for fiscal year 2016 that was cut by billions and nearly what Rauner has proposed.
That left House Republicans in a difficult spot. Had they voted for the measure, they’d have been recorded as endorsing deep and unpopular cuts. Had they voted against it, they’d be marked as having voted against their own party leader’s original plan.

They did neither and instead voted “present.” Democrats voted against that amendment, then begun introducing additional amendments to return human services funding and programs to near-2015 levels.

That pattern continued on Tuesday, as each amendment Harris brought forth for a vote got the support of Democrats while Republicans cast “present” votes.

And, for the moment at least, the entire matter stays in the House pending a final vote that would send it to the Senate.

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