State: House OK’s $3.7 billion in spending

Rauner likely to veto yet another spending bill sent to his desk by the legislature.

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation to spend as much as $3.7 billion on higher education and some human services is on the way from the House to the Senate.

But Republicans say anyone waiting on that money shouldn’t get excited: Gov. Bruce Rauner will veto the bills, and even if Democrats can muster overrides, the money doesn’t actually exist in state coffers.

In play are two pieces of legislation, House Bills 648 and 2990. The Democratic-backed package would OK spending about $3 billion in state general funds.

The proposal also would free up about $450 million of other money by forgiving loans previously made from special, dedicated state funds. Some federal money also is included.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the measure isn’t ideal but would meet some of the most urgent cries from higher education, provide for school construction reimbursement and help cover several emergency needs in human services.

In that the proposals include one idea previously suggested by the governor — the use of special funds — it represents a bipartisan compromise, said Currie, the House majority leader. Republicans howled.

Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the entire package would fall at least $2.5 billion short of money the state actually has or can expect to receive, and he and other Republicans never were consulted on the legislation.

“Send your press releases out, do your High 5s and say we’ve solved all the problems, and (say) it’s the bad Republicans” trying to sabotage a deal, Durkin told Democrats. In fact, he said, his efforts to negotiate a solution to the funding problems with Democratic leadership had been rebuffed.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said the proposal had been ginned up overnight by Democrats after they were unable to override a Rauner veto of Democrats’ previous plan to get $721 million appropriated for tuition grants and community colleges.

Rauner vetoed that measure because, he said, it was not backed by revenues and would only add to the state’s pile of debt.

Currie said the GOP was exaggerating. She argued that all of the spending authority in the bills being considered Thursday had actually cleared the legislature in bills Democrats sent to Rauner in the spring.

The idea that they had not been previously debated and vetted “does not mesh with reality,” she said.

Currie said the General Assembly should authorize the spending so the state’s comptroller could at least send out what money does become available.

“Unless we make the spending authority available to the comptroller, these programs … are absolutely out of luck,” Currie said.  ““We will have slammed the door shut in their faces.

“I think that is unacceptable; it is irresponsible,” she said.

Durkin responded that the only door slammed shut had been slammed on true, bipartisan negotiation.

“Our fingerprints are not on this,” he said. “This is all yours.”

House Bill 2990, the bulk of the legislation, passed 70-43 with one member voting present and four representatives not voting or absent.

House Bill 648, which would allow use of the special-fund money, passed 61-52, with no members voting present and five representatives not voting or absent.

“House Democrats passed a plan that isn’t paid for. Only in Illinois is that considered ‘compromise,’” Rauner said in a statement issued after the vote.

The governor’s office urged the House — not scheduled to return to Springfield until early April – to stay in town and work on bills he contends would produce an affordable outcome.

Some lawmakers said rank-and-file members of the General Assembly must push for real compromise regardless of party affiliation or directions from their party leaders. “We know that after this bill passes today, it’s going to be vetoed,” said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.

Afterward, he said, “Let’s meet and talk about what we can agree on. Let’s talk about what the real revenue estimates are. Let’s see if we can’t put some bills up … that can bring us together. But if we keep doing this, folks, they (voters) deserve to throw every one of us out of office.”

More than two-thirds of fiscal 2016 have passed with the state not having an overall budget. During that time, higher education and many social services have gone largely without.

Even without an overall budget, the state is still making payments on roughly 90 percent of the bills it covered in the previous year because it is paying for costs mandated in continuing appropriations, by court decrees, in the primary education budget that did pass and for its debt service.

As of Thursday, the state’s unpaid bills stood at $7.25 billion.

The Senate returns to Springfield on Tuesday. The House is scheduled to return April 4.

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