Tired of stalls, Senate Dems pass $37B budget plan

By Shane Nicholson 
Managing Editor 

Illinois Senate Democrats Tuesday, tired of delays in the budget process, pushed ahead on a $5 billion tax plan to fund what they say would be a balanced, $37.3 billion budget.

Democrats began refashioning an Illinois budget plan Tuesday that won Senate approval without Republican votes as the May 31 deadline for action looms and lawmakers try to avoid starting a third consecutive year without an annual economic outline.

Sens. Heather Steans and Toi Hutchinson, key Democrat budget negotiators, unveiled adjusted plans that would increase spending by $800 million over last week’s proposal and carves out exceptions to expanding sales taxes for the first time to services. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner didn’t mention either in a social media appearance, instead continuing to call for a property tax freeze.

A budget closely in line with a proposal initiated by Senate Republicans was endorsed last week 31-21 — without any GOP votes. And language to authorize spending — and to implement painful cuts to Medicaid and grant programs many Democrats hold dear — failed.

Tuesday, after five months of trying to negotiate what’s been known as the “grand bargain” budget compromise, Democrats prepared to go it alone so there’s time for House action. Budget votes after May 31 would require a three-fifths majority.

“The fear really is that we won’t have enough time to get this over to the House for 118 other people to weigh in and then get it to the governor,” said Hutchinson before Tuesday’s vote.

Such routine action carries additional drama when it’s May in Illinois. The state has been without an annual budget since summer 2015, the longest fiscal stalemate of any state in the nation in modern times. The state will end the fiscal year June 30 nearly $6 billion in the hole, not counting a $14.4 billion heap of overdue bills.

Rauner and his allies promised to fight the Senate’s budget plan, saying that Democrats had forgone compromise. “It’s extremely disappointing that Democrats have decided to walk away from budget negotiations and pass a partisan budget with no reforms,” State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said in a statement.

But Democrats said their hand had been forced after Republicans refused to endorse last week’s GOP-proposed plan. Steans says the $37.3 billion spending outline matches the one Rauner introduced in February. She says many of the $3 billion in spending reductions were proposed by the GOP.

Rauner warned Senate Democrats he won’t sign a budget that increases income taxes without “a true, lasting property tax freeze.” The Republican governor and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton had previously reached an agreement on a four-year property tax freeze.

The revenue package includes a 32 percent increase in the personal income tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. It would raise $5 billion when combined with hiked corporate income taxes. It closes three corporate-tax loopholes and expands the sales tax base for the first time to services, but a lot fewer than previously proposed. The 6.25 percent sales tax would be applied to services such as dry cleaning and laundry, storage units, vehicle maintenance and tattoos and piercing. The latest version removes other personal services, landscaping and home maintenance.

–Associated Press reports contributing

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