Dems defer on Rauner’s short-term budget bid

By Dave McKinney 

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Democrats set aside a seven-month spending plan offered on Tuesday by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, leaving a full-year budget the governor has vowed to veto as the most likely option to pass on the final day of the legislature’s spring session.

Rauner’s administration proposed a framework for a short-term budget that would address unappropriated spending for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, and fully or partially fund key fiscal 2017 items including K-12 schools.

Illinois has limped through fiscal 2016 as the only U.S. state without a complete budget, operating under court-ordered spending, continuing and stopgap appropriations, and an enacted school funding budget.

The impasse between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature showed no sign of relenting. At issue are business-friendly and labor-weakening changes championed by Rauner and opposed by Democrats.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton left a brief budget meeting in the governor’s office Tuesday morning in no rush to move Rauner’s proposal, instead handing it off to a bipartisan panel of legislators the governor convened.

“This is not something that’s going to happen today,” Madigan told reporters.

Republicans accused Democrats of putting Rauner’s plan in a legislative deep freeze and showing no sincere effort to decide on the issue before a midnight Tuesday deadline, after which it will require a tougher, three-fifths voting majority to pass a bill.

A budget passed by House Democrats last week could still be taken up by the Senate before the deadline. Rauner has vowed to veto that spending plan, calling it more than $7 billion short on revenue.

Under Rauner’s short-term budget framework, the state would tap its rainy day fund, which totaled $275 million at the end of fiscal 2015, and another nongeneral fund to pay fiscal 2016 bills to keep prisons, mental health centers and veterans homes operating and to compensate social services providers that were not part of court orders and consent decrees.

For fiscal 2017, which begins on July 1, the state would appropriate federal money. Schools would be funded at their fiscal 2016 levels, while colleges and universities would once again receive less money with only $600 million.

Another $450 million, raised by forgoing repayment of a previous interfund borrowing, would be tapped to pay vendors for critical food, utility, and fuel purchases needed to keep prisoners fed, state police on the road and medical services available.

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