Democrats readying $36 billion budget

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD —House Speaker Michael Madigan on Monday announced Democrats will spend the next several days preparing a roughly $36.3 billion spending plan.

Their plan calls for spending far more than Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.

And the Democrats’ top priorities for this last week of the scheduled legislative session do not appear to include the Republican governor’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda items, which Rauner has said he will not abandon.

Republican reaction was swift.

“Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls are walking away from the negotiating table and refusing to compromise on critical reforms needed to turnaround Illinois,” said Lance Trover, the governor’s communications director.

“Instead, they appear ready to end the regular session with yet another broken budget or massive tax hike and no structural reforms,” he said. “The speaker and his allies in the legislature are sorely mistaken if they believe the people of Illinois will accept doubling down on a broken system that has failed Illinois over the last dozen years.”

Among the measures being pushed by Rauner are constitutional amendments creating term limits for legislators and reforms on how legislative districts are drawn.

Democrat plans

“The Democrats in the Legislature, the House and the Senate, will offer a spending plan that will be consistent with our view of what the state of Illinois should do for Illinoisans who need government to be of help to them,” Madigan (D-Chicago) said in a news conference.

“We will publicly acknowledge that we don’t have the money to pay for this budget, that there will be a shortfall in this budget, but we are prepared to work with the governor, negotiate with the governor, to raise the money so that there is a balanced budget,” he said.

Asked about the governor’s agenda items, Madigan said those were non-budget items and shouldn’t be tied to the budgeting process, which he said should be the Legislature’s top priority.

“The most important thing for the governor and the Legislature to do right now is to prepare a spending plan,” Madigan said,

Madigan said the Democratic budget would include cuts in most areas but also include increases for primary and secondary education and for prisons. The speaker said the budget would also include increased spending to make necessary state pension payments.

Leaders respond

House Minority Leader Jim Durki  (R-Western Springs) said, “The House Democrats affirmed today that they don’t want to pass reforms that will fix a broken state government, but only want to raise taxes.

“Instead of working with Republicans in a bipartisan manner to fix the deep financial crisis that they caused, Democrats insist on continuing down the path of crafting and passing unbalanced budgets that spend billions more than we can afford.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) issued a statement that, in part, said, “This is a replay of how legislative Democrats have run Illinois for the past decade. Game playing, a complete disregard for balancing the budget and a burden on the taxpayers who pay the bills.”

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said in a statement: “We have been working with the House to build a plan that reflects our priorities for schools, working families and communities in need. Republican leaders who agree with those priorities should work with Democrats to identify the funding we need to bring this budget to balance.”

Another view

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Center, said Monday’s events don’t necessarily mean Illinois is headed for a budget cliff, or July arriving without a budget.

“Unless there’s some counter from the governor, this may be just part of the dance and not a live round,” Yepsen said.

And, if the Democrats do identify specific cuts in their proposals, “that could move the ball forward a couple of inches,” Yepsen said.

But  Yepsen said he also does not see Rauner backing up much when it comes to his reform or “turnaround” points.

“I think he has to get something more than he has,” Yepsen said.

One area to watch, Yepsen said, is how the Senate handles both the Democratic budget and Rauner’s bills.

And, he said, if the General Assembly does send Rauner a spending-heavy budget, the governor will have the option of vetoing it.

But deals have been known to come together in Springfield with lightning speed, and that’s still not impossible before July arrives, he added.

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