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GOP Offers 'Compromise' State Budget With Familiar Reforms

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Illinois Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on May 31, 2016.

Seth Perlman

With Illinois heading toward a third straight year without a budget, Illinois Republicans presented a familiar “compromise” spending and reform plan Wednesday they argued could end the gridlock.

But Democrats, who control House and Senate, were skeptical, saying they’ve already taken up many of those ideas and Republicans’ demands keep changing.

During a Wednesday news conference, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin outlined a budget and six reforms — including a property tax freeze, a pension overhaul and term limits — in exchange for agreeing to a four-year income tax increase. Republicans said the ideas pick up where negotiations on a larger compromise broke down last month and meet Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s push for pro-business changes he’s sought since taking office in 2015.

Senate Democrats have approved their own $37 billion budget with $3 billion in cuts and an income tax increase. The House didn’t consider the plan before adjourning by a key May 31 deadline, saying more GOP support was needed.

Now, any new agreements for the fiscal year beginning July 1 require a three-fifths vote instead of a majority, while other financial pressures mount. Credit ratings agencies have threatened to lower Illinois’ already worst-in-the-nation credit rating to “junk” status without a budget. Legislative leaders haven’t yet announced plans to meet this month. If they don’t, Rauner has said he’d consider calling a special session.

“We must act now to pass a negotiated, comprehensive balanced budget with reforms to change the status quo of how we operate in Illinois and to boost our struggling economy,” Durkin said in Chicago.

Republicans said their plan included accepting a four-year property tax freeze instead of a permanent one, along with parts of Democrat-supported government consolidation and workers compensation measures. They said Democrats’ previous efforts don’t go far enough. With the budget, Republicans called for unspecified cuts of $5 billion and an annual four-year spending cap of $36 billion.

Democrats said bipartisan agreement was needed to dig Illinois out of the mess.
Senate President John Cullerton’s spokesman John Patterson argued that senators put together their budget based on Rauner’s requirements and it remained a viable option. He said he’d review Republican plans once they’re filed as legislation.

“We hope this is a serious, real step toward that compromise by House and Senate Republicans,” Patterson said. “But a Republicans-only, mid-June news conference doesn’t exactly scream bipartisan compromise.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown said he’d also wait for details before evaluating the proposal as a compromise.

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