Larger state budget question remains unresolved
By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois remains without an overall budget, but the Illinois House on Wednesday took action to release some money to local governments and pay lottery winners.
It includes about $2 billion in purpose-collected cash for costs such as local road work and 911 centers.
It also would authorize $1 billion to pay state lottery winners, who now must take vouchers for winnings larger than $600.
Additionally, the bill authorizes the use of about $28 million from the state’s general funds to pay for items including energy bill assistance for the needy and certain state operations.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the bill includes the spending authorization sought in a previous bill by Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, and adds funding sought by the governor.
Additionally, it includes some money Democrats sought, including for domestic violence shelters and partial funding for the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State, which handles major, statewide services such as driver and vehicle licensing.
Currie said the bill might not be ideal but is a bipartisan compromise and one important to local governments.
“I brought this bill because the governor asked me to (and) because local mayors and managers asked us to give them back their money,” she said during debate on the House floor.
Republicans ultimately backed the measure, but showed some hesitancy because of the lack of an overall state budget, projected deficit spending and what they see as a dangerous piecemeal approach to spending.
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said he was supporting the bill, but with reservations.
“A drop in the bucket here and a drop in the bucket there, and pretty soon you have a billion,” he said.
“We have no idea how we’re going to climb out of this mess,” said Kay. “None.”
Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, also supported the bill but voiced a similar sentiment.
“Let’s not pretend we’re solving our problems today; we’re simply delaying the hard choices,” Franks said.
In an afternoon news conference, Gov. Bruce Rauner said the bill isn’t a cure-all but does contribute to the safety of public roads and provides for certain policing costs.
“I’ll say this bill was a compromise,” the Winnetka Republican said. “My primary concern is public safety.”
The legislation, actually a House amendment to an existing Senate bill, passed easily with 107 votes.
Because the House crafted the measure as it did, the Senate can vote on it and send it to the governor in a single day if it chooses. Senators are expected to return Monday to Springfield to take up the measure.
Illinois has entered the sixth month of fiscal year 2016 without a full budget as the GOP and Democrats remain at loggerheads.
Meanwhile, the state is spending at clip that could put it $5 billion into the red for this fiscal year as it funds primary and secondary education, satisfies its debt service and pays for items demanded by court orders, consent decrees and in continuing appropriations.