Tuesday marks the last day of the regular legislative session in Illinois, and it appears unlikely that state lawmakers and the governor will reach a budget deal by the deadline. Progress Illinois rounds up the developments out of Springfield.
All eyes are on Springfield to see if Illinois lawmakers and the governor will reach a budget agreement before Tuesday’s scheduled end of the regular legislative session.
As Illinois nears the one-year mark without a full state budget, political observers say it appears unlikely that a deal will be struck on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, I do not believe that’s going to happen. I would be delighted if I’m wrong,” said John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. “It seems to me all the straws in the wind are negative, and I can’t imagine that they’re going to get this together at the eleventh hour.”
But at least one lawmaker says he remains hopeful a budget deal can be reached before midnight.
“I hope that, as the work continues by the budgeteers, I would say that there’s definitely a possibility,” Rep. Rob Martwick (D-Chicago) told Progress Illinois earlier this afternoon. “Between now and midnight, the next 10 hours, is in Springfield time, that’s an awful long time. So anything could happen.”
The Democrat-controlled legislature could try to advance a 2017 spending plan backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, however, has threatened to veto Madigan’s budget proposal due to its reported $7 billion shortfall.
For his part, Rauner wants lawmakers to approve a new short-term budget measure, which would cover K-12 education funding to ensure schools open on time in the fall. Additionally, the plan reportedly seeks $600 million for higher education and $450 million for state residential facilities, prison food and other items.
Funding for the Rauner-backed budget measure would come from special state accounts and federal sources. Also, the state would not have to repay the $450 million it borrowed in 2015 to address a previous budget gap under Rauner’s plan.
The governor and Illinois legislative leaders discussed the stopgap proposal during a meeting this morning, with Madigan saying the plan is something budgeteers would consider. But the House speaker stressed that the stopgap proposal is “not something that’s going to happen today.”
“It’s going to be sent off to the budget working group,” Madigan said. “They’ll have a lot of good ideas to fashion a good, solid bill that would be responsive to the governor’s request that we give him appropriation authority, spending authority to get the state through the general election.”
In the meantime, the Illinois Senate could take up Madigan’s budget measure, which the House approved last Wednesday.
Madigan’s budget blueprint doesn’t include the “turnaround agenda” items Rauner is seeking to attach to a larger spending plan. Working groups of lawmakers are discussing Rauner’s turnaround agenda proposals, which have been the key sticking points in budget negotiations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
“They could get a deal, they could get it done today, if they could come to a general agreement on principles,” Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said about the possibility of a budget agreement being reached today. “But the problem is, of course, that they don’t have a general agreement on principles, and there’s really no general agreement in sight.
“Some of the fine details have changed, but the general overview of the arguments right now are the same as they were when the governor gave his budget address in 2015. He wants certain reforms that the Democrats find anathema, and here we sit,” Mooney continued. “Until they come to an agreement on that — whether it’s compromise, whether it’s capitulation — it’s not gonna get done.”
Illinois Republicans are urging for passage of the governor’s short-term budget measure, despite GOP leaders just last week dismissing the idea of a one-month stopgap budget floated by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).
“The Democrats’ real intentions will be revealed today,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a statement. “They can either choose a balanced, paid-for budget that keeps schools and prisons open while work continues on critical reforms or they can pass the most unbalanced budget in state history, proving once-and-for-all that all Democrats want to do is crush Illinois under a mountain of debt, push taxes to the highest levels in state history and hold the state hostage to their outrageous anti-taxpayer demands.”
Martwick suggested that lawmakers are open to a stopgap budget.
“But, of course, we want to take a look and see what’s in it,” he said. “I think it’s certainly something that’s on the table. But at this point, that’s a decision for leadership, not for me.”
Regarding the budget proposal approved last week by House Democrats, Martwick said the proposal served at least two key purposes.
“One was to say to the governor, ‘Don’t negotiate in bad faith, because we’ve got plan B. We’re not gonna be held hostage at the eleventh hour.’ And the other thing … is that it serves to illustrate exactly the nature of this budget. … If everybody gets what everybody wants, we got to find $7 billion. I don’t think anybody actually expects that that’s going to happen, so it shows us where we need to negotiate from — at least from a financial standpoint.”
The Responsible Budget Coalition, which represents over 250 groups in Illinois, says the budget should take priority over the governor’s policy agenda. The group is urging lawmakers to pass sufficient revenue to ensure important programs and services are fully funded.
“They need to come together and not let those non-budget items be an obstacle,” said RBC’s Neal Waltmire. “And they need to choose revenue over these cuts to job-creating services and colleges.”
Service providers, he added, are losing confidence in the state of Illinois.
“They sued the state because many of them haven’t been paid in the year,” Waltmire said. “That fundamental issue needs to be addressed, and it does need to be addressed very quickly.”
After the regular legislation session ends, it takes a three-fifths, or supermajority, vote of approval in both chambers to advance a budget proposal.
Jackson said there are pros and cons to the three-fifths rule.
“While that’s, in the sort term, a really bad thing because it makes it very, very difficult to get a solution, in the long term, it’s not all bad in the sense that both parties have got to get on board,” he said. “They’ve got to now come to something like the agreed bill process where they both have a stake in it, and they both put some votes on it. And I think that’s actually a good thing. Because it seems to me these are fundamental issues about what is government going to do, what is the scope of government and how are we going to have some realistic plans to pay for it? And that ought to be the grand bargain that has existed in the past when we’ve had other significant tax increases.”
Other Legislative Proposals Under Consideration
In addition to the budget, Illinois lawmakers have several other legislative proposals on their plates to potentially tackle today, including an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program.
The House advanced the medical marijuana legislation to the Senate on Monday. Currently, the state’s medical marijuana program is slated to sunset in January 2018. The new proposal would extend the program to July 2020 and also add terminal illness and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions eligible for medical marijuana treatment.
Another high-profile issue facing the legislature is the Chicago Public Schools system’s financial situation. Martwick says he hopes the legislature will act on assistance for CPS, which is facing a $1 billion budget deficit and preparing for deep budget cuts.
“We are facing an unprecedented financial crisis there, and I hope whatever we do, we find a way to save them,” he said. “This is 20 percent of the school children of Illinois. This is not about Chicago. This is about one-fifth of our entire educational system, and we need to come together and solve it.”
On the issue of energy policy, it appears lawmakers will not take action this session on a controversial bill backed by Exelon and ComEd.
Parties interested in the legislation have apparently not yet reached an agreement on the proposal. As such, the bill’s chief sponsor, state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), said the legislation will not be called for a vote Tuesday. Proponents of the bill could try to advance it at a later date.
“Time has run out,” Trotter said Monday, according to The News-Gazette. “I’m disappointed because I saw and heard, by sitting in those meetings, that there was some movement. It was just one or two entities — and I’m not going to name them — who I think were intentially slowing the process down.”
Exelon has previously warned it would have to start phasing out its Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants, which are struggling financially, if state lawmakers do not approve the so-called Next Generation Energy Plan by May 31.
“At this time the future of the Next Generation Energy Plan remains unclear,” Exelon said in a statement Monday. “We’ll have more to say about the path forward within the next few days.”
Criminal justice reform proponents, meanwhile, have their eye on legislation that would remove employment barriers for non-violent offenders in Illinois through occupational licensing reform. The measure would apply to the industries of barbering, hair braiding, nail technology, esthetics, cosmetology and roof and funeral services.
The Senate approved the Occupational Licensing Reform Bill last week, and a House committee followed suit Tuesday. The measure, HB 5973, could go up for a full House vote today.
“Such reform measures are vitally important for community well-being,” the Safer Foundation, a supporter of the bill, said in a media release. “At least a quarter of Illinois’ workforce has to be licensed, a process which, like hiring, factors in criminal records. In the absence of codification proposed by HB 5973, people with criminal records may be excluded from gainful employment without due process.”
The U.S. Justice Action Network is also urging House lawmakers to approve the bill.
“As the state legislative session comes to a close, Illinois should not miss this opportunity to pass much-needed reforms that remove obstacles to putting people back to work,” U.S. Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris said in a statement. “When individuals with records can’t find jobs, they very often return to crime and return to prison. Illinois spends over $1.4 billion annually on it’s prison system and HB 5973 is a good start to removing barriers to employment, reducing recidivism rates and saving taxpayers’ money.”
Lawmakers Override Rauner’s Veto Of Chicago Police And Fire Pension Measure
The Illinois General Assembly did take action this week on a measure aimed at addressing Chicago’s underfunded police and fire pension funds. The House and Senate voted Monday to override the governor’s veto of the legislation, which will give the city more time to make its pension payments and produce $1 billion in short-term savings.
Under the legislation, the city’s payment due this year for its police and fire pension funds will be reduced to $619 million from about $834 million. Also, the city’s 2040 deadline to have its police and fire pension funds 90 percent funded will be extended to 2055.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the legislation prevents the city from having to implement an additional property tax increase of $300 million. Chicago aldermen already approved a $588 million property tax hike last year to cover police and fire pensions and school construction.
Rauner vetoed the pension legislation over concerns that it “continues the irresponsible practice of deferring funding decisions necessary to ensure pension fund solvency well into the future.” The governor maintains that the Chicago police and fire pension measure will cost $18.6 billion more in interest over 40 years.
The veto override vote was 39-19 in the Senate and 72-43 in the House.
Political observers described the veto override as significant, as three Republicans in the House and one Republican in the Senate broke from their party and joined Democrats in supporting the override.
“Whether or not this is aberration or the crack in the damn that (will lead) to a flood, I don’t know,” Mooney said of the veto override. “We’re just gonna have to see.”