State senate OKs $3.9B spending bill

Democrats say the $3.9 billion spending authorization bill at least lets universities and social service agencies get in line for payments.

By Mark Fitton 
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Senate Democrats on Thursday passed a bill to OK nearly $4 billion in state spending while their GOP colleagues called the effort a hoax on the public and even on the institutions the money is intended to benefit.

Senate Bill 2059 would permit the state to spend as much as $3.9 billion — about $3.1 billion from general funds — on higher education and social services.

The problem, according to Republicans: There’s no cash to cover the check.

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the bill doesn’t actually require spending or demand that any one amount go to any one service or university.

Instead, she said, it allows universities, social service providers and small businesses owed cash by the state to at least get in line for what money is available now and for more money when it becomes available later.

Republicans said that argument amounts to a piece of fiction crafted for the folks back home.

They argued Democrats were trying to say, “It’s only an appropriation, not real spending” while debating in Springfield, but then returning to their home districts and telling people, “We funded you; we took care of those programs.”

“At the end of the day, you’re telling people to go to the end of the line after the bank run has already shut the doors,” said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

Steans argued the spending authorization should be passed now because it approves payment “for legal obligations already out there.”

“These folks should not be held hostage based on the fact that we aren’t passing a budget,” she said, “It’s just not right.

But Sen. Matt Murphy said the bill isn’t a budget and wouldn’t get anyone his or her state money a day sooner.

The two sides also traded swipes over the lack of negotiations as the state plugs through its ninth month of the fiscal year with no budget.

“It’s time to get together,” said Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove. “It’s time to accept those reforms (sought by Gov. Bruce Rauner) so that we can work together and pass a bill that will mean something instead of another phony bill like this one that isn’t going to accomplish anything.”

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said the GOP’s hypocrisy was showing.

Sullivan said he didn’t see any Republican senators who voted against a K-12 education-funding bill — which their governor and party leader eventually signed — turn to Rauner and ask where the money was to cover that bill.

And, Sullivan said, Democrats weren’t accepting all of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” as either pure reforms or as prerequisites for a budget.

Democrats “are ready,” Sullivan said. “We will stay here in Springfield and will work on the budget if you are ready to talk about the budget. That’s what we need to be having the discussion about.”

Senate Bill 2059 passed 39-18 and now goes to the House, which is not scheduled to return to Springfield until April 4.  

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the administration opposes the bill and called on lawmakers to “stay in Springfield and negotiate a balanced budget alongside structural reforms that create jobs and grow our economy.”

Despite more than two-thirds of fiscal 2016 having passed, the first-term Republican governor and the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate have not reached a deal on a state budget.

Even without an overall budget, the state still is 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 and secondary education budget and for its debt service.

As of Wednesday, the state’s unpaid bills totaled $7.46 billion.

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