State House delays budget override action
By John O’Connor
AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Capitol fell silent Wednesday for the first time in two weeks, but House Democrats pledged to continue their efforts to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget vetoes to give the state its first spending plan in two years.
The respite gave Republican Rauner an opening. He scheduled an afternoon discussion with community leaders in a Chicago neighborhood to discuss a possible 32 percent increase in the income tax rate, which he has pinned squarely on Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Lawmakers were in session for 14 straight days, capped by a flurry of activity on Tuesday, when the Senate sent a $36 billion spending plan to the governor funded with a $5 billion income tax increase. Rauner rapidly vetoed it, only to have the Democratic-controlled Senate just as swiftly override him.
But the House, which had approved the fiscal blueprint Sunday night with veto-proof majorities, has failed to summon enough members the last two days to take action. Fewer than 60 of the House’s 118 members answered quorum calls on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, said the House intends to proceed with an override Thursday, but it depends on attendance.
“I can’t answer for every member who’s not here,” Lang said. “If they were all here, this would have been done already.
Lang mentioned instances in which members are dealing with a family member’s or a friend’s death and the terminally ill relative of another.
“Legislators are people, too,” Lang said. “I expect that we’ll gather the necessary people here” Thursday.
Illinois’ budget crisis is the longest in the nation since at least the Great Depression.
With a $6.2 billion annual deficit and $14.7 billion in overdue bills, disaster is around the corner. The United Way predicts the demise of 36 percent of all human services agencies in Illinois by year’s end. Billions of dollars in road construction work is shutting down. Public universities have been cut to the bone and face a loss of academic accreditation.
Although there’s no firm deadline, credit-rating houses have vowed to downgrade the state’s creditworthiness to “junk,” signaling to investors that buying state debt is a highly speculative venture. The bond houses predicted a downgrade without a fix by the July 1 debut of the fiscal year.
But Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings gave Illinois some breathing room on Monday, issuing notices marking the House tax increase approval a day earlier and indicating they would not take immediate downgrade action.
Government has limped along for two years on the strength of court-ordered spending, but the state comptroller says the treasury will be $185 million short of what’s needed to cover basic services by August.
This story has been updated.