Illinois Budget Now in Madigan’s Court

Illinois representatives Wednesday are beginning to vet the $37.3 billion spending plan – as well as the tax hike that would support it – passed a day prior by their Senate peers.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says a small group of budget-focused Democrats have been reviewing the plan and will share their findings privately with the rest of the caucus Thursday; the appropriations and revenue package will likely see a public hearing this weekend, on Sunday. 

Gov. Bruce Rauner insists he’ll only sign a tax hike if it’s paired with a property tax freeze.

Though the Senate has seemingly handed the budget baton to the House, Rauner said in interviews with various media outlets Wednesday that he wants bipartisan Senate negotiations to continue.

Meanwhile, the Rauner administration and Democrats who control the Illinois House are arguing over whether (and if so, who) they will meet to discuss the budget and the “structural reforms” Rauner has hinged his term on.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, made a big show on the House floor to say his party hadn't heard back from a letter sent last week to Rauner that reads: “We believe there is no more important issue facing our state than the passage of a full, responsible budget. As you have continually held items unrelated to the budget as preconditions to your cooperation in resolving this impasse, members of the House Democratic leadership team have requested to work with you to find common ground on your agenda. We ask that you begin work with them immediately."

“Governor, again, Rome is burning we’re here ready to talk to you, anybody, to reach a consensus. It's time to put your duct tape away. It's time to stop the political games. It's time to roll up the sleeves or your plaid shirt and sit down and negotiate. Let’s do it today,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman’s outburst provoked a response from House Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

“You’ve had the majority in this chamber for so many years and I can’t recall the last time you actually passed a budget that was balanced. Quite frankly, you guys couldn't balance a budget out of a wet paper bag. History says that, folks. But let’s be perfectly honest, these letters going back and forth are nothing more than a CYA (cover your a**),” Durkin said.

Durkin referenced a letter sent by Rauner Chief of Staff Rich Goldberg to Democrats’ leadership that says:

“In recent weeks, Governor Rauner and key Illinois business leaders invited Speaker Madigan to come to a meeting to discuss these issues. Unfortunately, the Speaker refused to meet. Now you claim publicly that you want to meet to discuss the budget and reforms, but privately refuse to meet with me one-on-one. We have a few days left in the regular session. If you are sincere about reaching a balanced budget agreement, I look forward to meeting with you.”

Hoffman admitted that it’s a “silly” back-and-forth, but it nonetheless signals the level of sour stalemate in Springfield.

Legislators have one week left – until May 31 – before their regular session is scheduled to end, though it’s not necessarily a strict budget deadline as the new, 2018 fiscal year doesn’t begin until July.

While that gives legislators the next month to shape and send the governor a budget, June brings major changes. The constitution requires any bill to pass with a supermajority, rather than a simple one, if it’s to take effect immediately.  Given the challenges with gaining a simple majority, getting those extra votes could be difficult.

But while Democrats hold a supermajority in the Senate – and therefore have the numbers to override a potential gubernatorial veto – that’s not the case in the Senate.

This week, ratings agency Fitch issued a memo that signaled it’s giving lawmakers until the start of fiscal year 2018 before a probable downgrade:

“Illinois’ budget crisis and related deterioration in credit quality is the result of a political impasse between the Governor and the legislature … It seems clear that a budget will not be enacted until a compromise is reached."

Of course, for state agencies, social service agencies, schools and the like, the sooner Illinois gets a budget the better; they’ve been waiting two years for one.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky


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