State: House Dems advance 2017 budget

By Dave McKinney 

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois took another step on Wednesday that is bound to lead nowhere in solving its strangled finances, with the Democratic-led House approving a new spending plan and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner immediately vowing to veto it, saying it was $7 billion out of balance.

The fiscal 2017 budget, which passed in a 63-53 vote, allocates $14.1 billion for general funds spending against $33 billion in anticipated revenue.

However, the Democrats’ plan does not include billions of dollars the state automatically spends on pensions and debt payments, as well as for court-ordered social services spending under consent decrees, leading Republicans to blast the budget for needing $7.2 billion in additional revenue.

The spending plan appeared destined to follow in the path of the Democrats’ fiscal 2016 budget, which was vetoed by Rauner, with the exception of K-12 school funding, on the premise it was $4 billion short on revenue. That has left Illinois the only state without a complete spending plan 11 months into a fiscal year that began July 1, 2015.

The state has been relying on ongoing appropriations, stopgap funding bills and court-ordered spending, with a growing pile of unpaid bills as it limps through the fiscal year.

“This is a repeat of last year on steroids,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin during the budget debate.

But House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie said lawmakers must act to pass a budget.

“It is unconscionable this state has failed to do its job during the current fiscal year and it would be even more unconscionable for us to leave this assembly without taking care of our responsibilities for the fiscal year to come,” she said.

The House-passed budget includes an additional $700 million to address funding inequities among K-12 school districts, most notably the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools, which would also get an additional $100 million for pensions. The budget now moves to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where its fate was unclear.

Comptroller Leslie Munger, a Republican, warned of “catastrophic” results if the House budget plan is enacted, predicting the backlog of unpaid bills would more than double to $15 billion and payments to schools, hospitals and others would take as long as nine months to process.

A coalition of unpaid social service agencies that sued Illinois for more than $100 million earlier this month filed an emergency motion on Wednesday asking the Cook County Court to order the state to immediately make bill payments that are more than 60 days late.

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