Pressure for a deal to break the historic two-year budget impasse started to build Thursday as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner summoned lawmakers back to the Capitol and Senate President John Cullerton said his Democrats won’t support a stopgap measure as an alternative to a full budget if no deal can be reached.
The governor took to social media to announce he’ll call a special session for the final 10 days of June. It’s a move that compels lawmakers to return to Springfield, but also allows them to collect a per diem of $111 per day plus 39 cents per mile instead of forgoing the perks if they met in a regular overtime session.
The Democrat-controlled General Assembly left Springfield on May 31 without agreeing on a spending plan to send to Rauner for the budget year that begins July 1. Senate Democrats, however, passed a plan to fully fund state government for the first time in two years, with the help of $5.4 billion in tax hikes. That plan languished in the House as Rauner-funded political groups ran attack ads warning House members considering it and the governor’s budget director said Rauner would veto it.
Now with the clock ticking toward the start of a third year without a budget, Democrats have pushed the idea that the problem in Springfield is Republican resistance to compromise, something Rauner’s legislative allies tried to dispel Wednesday with the unveiling of a wide-reaching legislative proposal. That plan set the stage for Rauner to insist that lawmakers return to the statehouse.
“Everyone needs to get serious and get to work,” said Rauner, who has not been out in public this week but released a Facebook video touting his decision. “To ease the minds of parents with school-age children, to reassure people in need, to help our colleges and universities, to grow jobs and bring relief to hardworking taxpayers.”
The battle lines haven’t moved, however.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan issued a statement saying his members have worked to compromise with Rauner “without hurting middle-class families … but he has refused to do so.”
“House Democrats will continue our work on the budget from Springfield, but as Gov. Rauner has met each of our attempts to date with refusal, it’s clear that the onus is on the governor to show that he is finally serious about working in good faith to end the crisis he has manufactured,” Madigan said in a statement.
Cullerton insisted his Senate Democrats did their job in sending the House a budget plan that addressed some of Rauner’s prerequisites.
“Maybe there’s a need for a special session in the House because they haven’t been passing bipartisan bills or budgets, so that’s great,” Cullerton said. “And now you need Republicans for sure over there. But I just don’t know exactly what he wants us to do.”
For the past week, Rauner suggested he might call a special session, an idea dismissed as a waste of time last year.
In 2015, Democratic leaders kept their chambers in continuous session throughout the year, and lawmakers returned to Springfield periodically to pass stopgap measures that kept some money flowing for state services. In 2016, Democratic leaders added session days in June, which is when they put together a stopgap budget to get state government through the end of the year.
This week, Republicans tried taking the reins by laying out a framework for a deal and calling on Democrats to act on it. Described by House and Senate Republicans as “The Capitol Compromise,” the lawmakers said approval of a seven-part legislative package is what it would take to break the stalemate.
The proposal would tweak a budget plan that Senate Democrats approved in May, with some Republicans pledging to vote for about $5.4 billion in tax hikes to help erase the state’s budget deficit on the condition that Democrats help them to pass six other measures on the governor’s wish list.
Among them is a four-year property tax freeze, changes to regulations on insurance for workers who are injured on the job, legislation to allow for consolidation of local governments, a rewrite of the way tax dollars are doled out to schools, term limits on politicians and cost-saving changes to the state pension systems.
Rauner said Thursday he would sign the package of bills if they made it to his desk. But that would require a willingness from all involved to approve a tax increase with an election year on the horizon.
In a Thursday interview with the Chicago Tribune, Cullerton noted that his Senate Democrats are so far the only ones who’ve been willing to put their names on a tax hike vote. He warned that his caucus wouldn’t go along with another stopgap measure that sets the tax increase issue aside for another day.
“Why would you even think about a stopgap? To continue this horror show ’til the election year when we owe $24 billion?” Cullerton said. “You think it’s easier to vote for an appropriation without revenue after you’ve already voted for an appropriation with revenue? The Senate wouldn’t do that. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking my caucus doesn’t want to do that.”
Indeed, the state is spending well beyond its means, and has been for the past two years. Illinois now owes a record $15 billion in unpaid bills, and Wall Street ratings agencies have threatened to downgrade the state’s credit rating to junk status if a budget isn’t in place by July 1.
Meanwhile, the state is at risk of violating multiple state and federal court orders that compel it to write checks with money it doesn’t have. And the lottery agency that runs the multistate Powerball and Mega Millions games is threatening to drop Illinois if there’s no budget by the end of the month.
The continuing impasse threatens to suspend major road projects, as the state will not be able to pay contractors starting July 1, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The department is notifying contractors that all construction work is to be shut down June 30 if the budget situation is not resolved, said IDOT spokeswoman Gianna Urgo. A shut down would affect about 700 current projects throughout the state valued at $2.3 billion.
Also Thursday, an appellate court dismissed an attempt by social service providers to have their unpaid bills pushed ahead in line, causing the group’s spokeswoman to suggest that social service providers should rethink doing business with the state. The Ounce of Prevention Fund, run by Diana Rauner, is among the parties to the lawsuit. The group has filed a related lawsuit in downstate St. Clair County.
Chicago Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski contributed.