By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The state Senate on Wednesday approved a stopgap fix, but its chances for the governor’s signature appear next to none.
The Senate also overrode about a half-dozen of the governor’s budget-bill vetoes, but it’s uncertain whether the House will follow suit on the same bills.
Also in the Senate, a measure to freeze property taxes for two years and force a rewrite of the state’s school aid formula failed.
Senate Democrats provided all 39 of the “yes” votes to move the short-term “essential services” budget, SB 2040, to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the bill authorizing about $2.3 billion in spending is “very narrowly focused and in no way put us on a path to overspend.”
The bill, she and other Democrats said, focuses on public safety providers and life-giving services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. And, proponents said, it gives the governor and four legislative leaders breathing room to work toward a full-year budget.
Republicans were not convinced.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, called the measure, “one month on a path toward a budget that’s $4 billion out of balance” and said passage only would be “cementing an unbalanced, unconstitutional budget.”
“This is not even a worthwhile Band-Aid,” Murphy said.
Steans asked what Republicans had done or intended to do about the lack of a state budget.
“I would suggest your side of the aisle (and) the governor start taking some leadership in terms of providing some alternatives instead of focusing on all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the budget,” Steans said.
The bill also would pay all of the state’s roughly 65,000 workers for July.
“This is of very little comfort to state employees, and there’s really a better solution available,” said Murphy, who argued for a GOP-backed continuing resolution, a measure that would authorize state-employee pay for a full year.
Rauner has openly opposed the bill, saying the spending it calls for — coupled with other state obligations — is no better than a $36.3 billion fiscal year 2016 spending already proposed by Democrats and rejected by the governor.
The bill would authorize only spending to cover July expenses and the governor has 60 days to act on it.
Rauner could try to kill it by vetoing it immediately. Or he could let it sit on his desk for nearly two months. The governor could also strike all but the portions calling for employee pay, but he’s never expressed support for that approach.
The question of whether the state can make its full payroll in the absence of signed budget bills has been ruled on differently by circuit courts in Cook and St. Clair Counties.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, D-Chicago, has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to consolidate the cases and decide the matter so it can give state officials clear guidance on how to proceed.
In the interim, Comptroller Leslie Munger, R-Lincolnshire, is meeting the regular payroll.
Republicans led by Rauner and the legislative Democrats have been unable to reach a deal on a budget for fiscal year 2016, which began July 1.
Rauner complains the Democrats have sent him a spending plan that’s $4 billion heavier in spending than estimated revenue.
Democrats complain Rauner and the GOP have been unwilling to work with them on that plan until the governor gets movement on his own agenda items, which Democrats do not consider directly related to the annual budget.
The Senate on Thursday also overrode five of the governor’s vetoes of parts of the state budget sent to him this spring. Friday marked the last day for the Senate to cast override votes on the budget bills that originated in that chamber.
Democratic sponsors said the override efforts focused only on funding departments and programs designed to safeguard public safety and integrity, such as state police, the state fire marshal, the juvenile welfare agency and the state’s ethics commission.
Republicans argued the override votes were more of the same from Democrats.
“Just like there wasn’t in May, there isn’t the revenue,” said Murphy. “This is not the way to go forward.”
Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, accused Republicans of abrogating their duties by standing with Rauner on his agenda demands rather than getting meaningfully involved in the budget.
“We’ve seen this moving-the-goal-post routine before and it’s getting kind of tired,” he said.
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Matoon, said it was Democrats who punted on their responsibilities when they knowingly sent the governor a budget $4 billion light on revenue.
“You didn’t want to make choices in May to cut spending or raise taxes,” and essentially told the governor, “You deal with it,” Righter said.
“He dealt with it,” Righter concluded.
The House now has up to 15 days to take action regarding the overrides.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has not entirely ruled out the House taking up the override votes. In an afternoon news conference, he said he was hesitant to do so because that would put the House in veto session and trigger payment of per diems and mileage to members.
Republicans suggested that although the Democrats have 71 votes in the House necessary to override, not all 71 Democrats would stay on board.
Rauner’s administration ripped legislative Democrats for failing to take up his amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1354, which would have frozen legislator salaries and their per diem and mileage allowances.
Those legislators were leaving town without “a responsible, balanced budget and without any reforms while taking a pay raise for themselves. That’s unfair to taxpayers and the people they represent,” said Rauner communications director Lance Trover.
The vetoes overridden by the Senate on Wednesday were Senate Bills 2031, 2032, 2034, 2036, and 2037.
Property taxes, education
Senate Democrats could not muster the 36 votes needed to pass a measure that would have combined a two-year property tax freeze with a mandatory revamp of the state’s school funding formula.
Proponents said the bill would address outsized property tax burdens, a huge issue for residents, and open the way forward for negotiations with Rauner, who has sought such a tax freeze.
They also said it would require, after two years of study, a “sunset” or end to the current general state aid distribution formula, which critics say is skewed in that it rewards already wealthy areas.
Republicans, however, noted the measure did not contain something Rauner has called for that would ease the burden on local governments, including school boards, that would lose revenue if property taxes were frozen.
The GOP is seeking a diminishment of collective bargaining for local government employees, as well as an exemption for local governments from the Prevailing Wage Act. Local governments, Republicans argue, must be better able to control local costs.
Democrats say those concessions would drive down wages and standards of living for the middle class.
The measure, Senate Bill 316, gathered 32 votes, four short of passage.