By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Three key votes in the Illinois House on Tuesday showed Democrats and Republicans still playing hardball politics and assessing blame.
On two key initiatives — child-care assistance and medical care for the elderly and disabled — House Democrats fell a single vote short of reversing changes made by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The Democratic efforts fell short when one of their own, Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago, did not vote, leaving the motions with 70 votes for passage when 71 were required.
Before the day was out, Dunkin was criticized by some care providers and advocates, who accused of him of breaking promises, abandoning his constituents and making side-deals with the governor for his own purposes.
Illinois News Networks attempts to reach Dunkin for comment were not successful.
And despite the failure of legislation they opposed, Republicans were angry with their Democratic colleagues.
They argued that given recent concessions from Rauner in an attempt to compromise, the legislation was unnecessary and the Democrats were only holding “gotcha votes” to cast the GOP House members in a poor light come election time.
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, led a push in the House for Senate Bill 570 to overturn administration changes to the Child Care Assistance Program.
Rauner had earlier used rulemaking authority to toughen eligibility standards for the program, changing the maximum income standards from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent, or from about $2,450 for a two-person family to about $665 per month.
Rauner’s office this week said the governor would compromise and bring the eligibility standard to 162 percent.
But Gordon-Booth and fellow Democrats said the eligibility level was only half the picture, that language in SB 570 would mean neither Rauner nor any governor would be able to single-handedly tinker with the program considered by many to be both a needed anti-poverty tool and one easy for both parties to support.
State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, called cuts to the program “a disservice to we the people of the state of Illinois, because we are playing with the lives of children.”
The GOP argued the Democrats were walking away from a deal worked out by the Senate sponsor of the bill and the governor and doing so for political, not policy, purposes.
“I know you don’t want this to be called a gotcha vote, but it is,” said Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein. “As soon it can be possible, those mailers will hit the streets.”
Democrats also failed by a single vote to override an amendatory veto by Rauner that would have changed distribution of aid to seniors and people with disabilities needing at-home or institutional care.
Rauner’s administration was relying on executive authority to change a key Medicaid qualifying measure known as the determination of need, or DON, score.
House Bill 2482 would have thwarted that change and insured that people now receiving such care would not be disenfranchised, said sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago.
Rauner recently backed off the change of the DON score, saying he’d leave it where it stands.
Harris said his bill “honors promises made to seniors and people with disabilities” and would make sure people now receiving care are not forced out of their homes — or nursing homes — as the state changes how it assesses need.
Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said it appeared Harris’ was backing out of a deal he’d made with the governor’s office.
“There are some who believe a deal was made and then reneged upon, and I think that’s important,” Sandack said, arguing Republicans were making “a genuine attempt at compromise.”
Harris said while he appreciated the governor’s movement on the matter, he’d never promised he’d not push an override measure, nor was he in a position to do so without consulting with his leadership and colleagues.
Even when House Democrats and Republicans agreed, they scrapped heartily.
By a vote of 115 to 1, a bill by Democratic Rep. Marty Boylan of Des Plaines to let nearly $2 billion in non-general fund revenues flow to their intended uses.
The money in House Bill 4305 includes allocations to pay lottery winners, motor fuel tax disbursements to local governments, phone tax revenues for 9-1-1 dispatch centers and other targeted spending.
The governor had opposed the bill, arguing it and others were piece by piece contributing to an overall deficit state budget, but he lifted his opposition on Tuesday and suggested other programs worth backing with non-general fund revenues.
Republicans jumped on Boylan for not taking the governor’s suggestions and said Democrats weren’t interested in finding solutions or sharing credit.
State Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, said if Democrats were serious about getting the money out promptly, they’d attach it to a Senate bill that could be sent across the rotunda for immediate action instead of passing a new House bill that might not see further action until early 2016.
“Go home and send out your press releases that you passed a bill funding 9-1-1 and motor fuel taxes — wink, wink, nod, nod” said Reis.
Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said the GOP House members were showing their own hypocrisy by adding their votes in support of the bill only after Rauner lifted his opposition
Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, cast the lone no vote saying the General Assembly needs to get a complete budget together and lawmakers need to quit coming back to Springfield like addicts looking for small fixes.