By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – The Illinois House of Representatives will hold public hearings this summer on the state budget in an attempt to find a plan that can be enacted and serve the state’s residents.
The hearings plan was announced as the May 31 deadline for a new budget came and went with the branches of state government unable to reach a budget deal for the year beginning July 1.
State universities, public schools and social service agencies, meanwhile, moved closer toward financial failure, leaving students, the elderly and the mentally ill to bear the brunt of the political failure.
The state has functioned without a new budget since the election of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who crushed his own party’s attempt to reach an agreement with Democrats in the Senate earlier this year.
Eventually, the Senate Democratic majority passed a $37 billion budget and a $5 billion tax increase to help fund it, but House Democrats were unwilling to move on the plan without Republican participation.
So they came up with the hearings idea as a way move the process forward. Since it is past the deadline, it will take three-fifths votes in the Legislature to pass budget legislation instead of the usual majorities.
“What has occurred over the past 700 days under Governor Rauner is unacceptable,” said Representative Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), one of the House leaders in the budget fight. “House Democrats remain ready to work in good faith with the governor to end this impasse and enact an honest, balanced budget.”
Rauner has been demanding concessions unrelated to the budget, such as a property tax freeze and cutting workers’ compensation costs, although he rejects measures already passed on those issues. Hoffman said Democrats have been willing to work with him.
“Even though the budget should be our singular focus, we have shown our willingness to compromise on some of the governor’s non-budgetary demands,” Hoffman said. “We passed proposals that will cut property taxes, level the field for small and medium-sized business, crack down on corporations shipping jobs overseas and reform workers compensation by requiring that big insurance companies pass savings on to local employers.
“Despite our good-faith effort to meet the governor halfway and find common ground, the governor continues to move the goalposts – jeopardizing the future of our state in the process. The fact is, the governor doesn’t want a budget. He has repeatedly refused to renew negotiations on the budget, opting for campaign stops around the state instead.”
The House adopted a resolution that they would keep meeting in a “continuous session” to negotiate on the budget. The first public hearing was set for June 8 in Chicago, led by Representative Greg Harris, budget negotiator for House Speaker Mike Madigan.
“Our plan is for the House, Democrats and Republicans, to work through the month of June, continue to work on budget-making, working on a balanced budget,” Madigan said. “We will invite and will expect participation by all members of the House.”
Harris described how Rauner has continually changed his demands, making it impossible to reach compromise.
“A lot of folks have watched what has happened in the Senate, where they thought they had reached an agreement, and at the end of that agreement they found out the governor was pulling votes off the bill and then attacking the very people who had worked on the compromise, voting for things he had previously supported,” he said.
Meanwhile, financial markets considered further downgrading the state’s credit rating, which is already the worst in the nation, in part because of $14 billion in unpaid bills. Interest and fees alone now total about $800 million.
“We are probably approaching the point of impaired ability to function at a basic level,” said John Humphrey of Gurtin Municipal Bond Management. “We’ve already probably passed that point. We haven’t seen this in a modern state before.”
Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) outlined the price Illinois residents are paying for the budget standoff.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that for 700 days, families, seniors, schools and taxpayers in our community have suffered,” she said.
“Our schools are underfunded and scrambling to keep their doors open, seniors have been denied Meals on Wheels, and critical service providers are unable to provide services to victims of domestic abuse. Our prized state universities are struggling to attract the nation’s brightest students.
Stuart has not been accepting her legislative pay because of the lack of a budget and said she will continue that policy.
“We have made every effort to meet the governor halfway, but he needs to come back to the negotiating table to work out a budget solution,” she said.