In what promises to be a partisan showdown, Illinois Democrats, on Wednesday, are deep in the process of crafting a $36.3 billion budget by Sunday, in order to avoid more votes needed to pass it. But, there’s one small detail: a shortfall of $3 billion dollars, and the need to work with the newly inaugurated Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, to find the money. But, he has said that he will not work with the Dems unless there are fundamental changes to workers compensation, lawsuit reform, and a property tax freeze — all anathema to the party politic. – but part of his “Turnaround Agenda,” a reform package tightly bound to Republican party values.
Legendary, and some might say infamous, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan said that Rauner’s demands are no good, and that the governor is “mixing apples with oranges.” The governor’s office then issued a statement saying that the efforts by the Democrats would result in a broken budget, and would not be supported by the governor unless his demands were met.
Reaction by other Republicans has been equally strong, and GOP floor leader, Jim Durkin said “This is insanity.” Yet, Madigan replied, “We will publicly acknowledge that we don’t have the money to pay for this budget.”
This may seems confusing, but behind the donnybrook, both Democrats and Republicans, alike are using the budget session to not only do the work that the state constitution requires them to do, but also to solidify power in the eyes of the electorate.
Rauner seems to support this view when he said, “The speaker and his allies in the legislature are sorely mistaken if they believe the people of Illinois will accept doubling down on a broken system that has failed Illinois over the last dozen years.”
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) managed to pass, on a 64-51 vote, a bill to help shore up dollars for much of the state’s support for human services. The bill, however, cuts approximately $134 million, but keeps Medicaid expenditures at current levels. But, he confesses that, “This budget understands we need to make cuts,” but states that while there are cuts, the bill also restores cuts proposed in the governor’s recent, and equally controversial budget.
Republican Rep. David Leitch, however, said “it’s an unbalanced budget,” and “I’m very concerned that this process may be giving false hopes to community-based agencies throughout the state who actually rely on what we do here to provide these services,” reported Northern Public Radio.
No Republicans voted for Harris’ measure and four Democrats voted against it, including Reps. Sam Yingling, Scott Drury, Jack Franks, and Elaine Nekritz.
Reboot Illinois noted that some Democrats are stating that the Republican criticisms are unfounded and reported that, “Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, chided Republicans for hypocrisy, saying the governor’s budget proposal was really never balanced, either.”
Along with his statement, they also noted that, “with $2.2 billion in pension savings he said were never achievable, Bradley ticked down a long list of items he said Rauner never could count on, including $700 million in health insurance savings that remain to be bargained.”
Reclaiming the populist theme that has framed much of this debate Bradley also said, “The stuff that was sent to us was never even balanced from Day 1,” he also said,“It was built upon taking out the middle class; it was built upon hurting working men and women; it was built upon assumptions that didn’t exist in law.”
Other Republicans responded that their budget moves really meant that the Dems didn’t truly care about the middle class, and that all they really wanted to do was raise taxes; this from Rep. Dwight Clay.
The elephant lurking in the chamber, of courses, is the pension deficit and it is expected that at least a quarter of general fund spending will be spent in this area, and according to The New York Times, a sign of “real trouble,” for beleaguered Illinois, because it is an unusually high portion of a typical state budget.
When the money wrangling begins, in earnest, Illinois Democrats hold a veto proof supermajority in the state legislature and one that might be able to get the money that is needed to shore up what is now, a trial budget.