By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – Opening day of the Illinois Legislature is sometimes a day of high hopes and great expectations.
This year, not so much. The titanic stand-off between the Democrat-dominated Legislature and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is showing no signs of ending, leaving the state without a budget and many of its residents suffering as a result.
Rauner is determined to damage unions’ standing within the state, and much of the Democratic defiance to his demands is to protect their Labor allies.
That couldn’t have been more clear Jan. 11 at the University of Illinois-Springfield, where Rauner’s operatives in the Illinois Policy Institute staged a protest against the re-election of House Speaker Michael Madigan to an unprecedented 17th term.
While the Republicans mustered a few working people to join in their stunt, they were thoroughly drowned out by a genuine rally of union members supporting Madigan, including many from the Metro-East.
Republicans followed up with a barrage of press releases attacking Democratic representatives individually for voting for Madigan’s re-election, although nobody was running against him.
SENATE PLAN STALLS
Senate President John Cullerton was re-elected to his post by the Democratic majority in that chamber. Earlier in the week, in the last days of the previous Legislature, the Senate agreed on a bipartisan budget plan, but it was quickly shelved by Republicans as the session expired, the Associated Press reported.
Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Susan Radogno were trying to distinguish the Senate from the showdown between Rauner and Madigan.
Cullerton said he will present the plan to the new General Assembly. The legislation would increased the income tax rate to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent to narrow a multibillion-dollar annual deficit and $11 billion in unpaid state bills. It was also written to streamline purchasing, consolidate local government, reform the tax code and add term limits.
Later Wednesday, Democrats and their Labor supporters gathered to celebrate the inaugurations of four Democratic state representatives from the Metro-East – Jay Hoffman of Swansea, Latoya Greenwood of East St. Louis, Katie Stuart of Edwardsville and Dan Beiser of Alton. Hoffman, Stuart and Beiser all issued statements.
TIME TO ACT
Hoffman, chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, said it’s time to solve the budget dilemma.
“The state budget should not be a political football that can be used in order to gain political power,” he said. “As elected officials, there are consequences for our actions, and for every day we continue without a balanced budget, more damage is done to people and businesses in this state.”
Hoffman noted that Rauner has not signed a full state budget into law since taking office two years ago, despite the passage of several budgets out of the Legislature.
As a result, state universities, social service providers, health care providers and other organizations that depend on payments from the state have faced uncertainty and under-funding. Rauner has allowed the backlog of unpaid bills to grow from $4.5 billion to $13.5 billion, which has damaged the state’s credit rating.
“Working families and small businesses are two of the groups most negatively impacted by this impasse despite being two of the groups that depend most on the stability and support that the state can provide,” Hoffman said. “In order to do right by Illinois families and businesses, we must come together and pass a responsible budget.”
JUST DON’T PAY
Stuart said job creation, school funding and fiscal responsibility are at the top of her agenda.
“The families in my district do not have the ability to ignore their bills and run their homes on an unbalanced budget. The state should not be any different,” she said. “The status quo in Springfield isn’t working. I believe that if lawmakers don’t do their jobs, they shouldn’t be paid. I’m rejecting my own pay until a budget is in place and will fight the politicians and special interests to protect our families.”
Beiser called on Rauner to work with the Legislature on the budget.
“The time has come for Governor Rauner to look towards true compromise with lawmakers,” he said. “Since taking office, the governor has held our state budget hostage. Without a budget, our social service organizations are being also held as collateral damage, abandoning our most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and disabled.”
Beiser said he would also focus on property tax relief for homeowners, public safety and creating jobs by building the economy.