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Illinois Lawmakers Hopeful Of Senate Budget Plan

Illinois state lawmakers are preparing to leave Springfield later this week with no budget plan, but some members of the General Assembly are optimistic about a new Senate plan despite the long-running political stalemate that has derailed efforts to pass a full budget for more than year.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, said the Senate plan is the only serious proposal that she believes could end the impasse.

“At this point, with us going two fiscal years without a budget, I’m just happy anybody’s talking, Nekritz said. “And as long as people are talking, I will hold out some hope.”

The Senate package includes:

  • Raising the income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.

  • Add six new casinos throughout the state, including one in Chicago.

  • Borrowing $7 billion to pay the state’s backlog of bills.

  • Raising the minimum wage to $11 by 2021.

  • Enacting 10-year term limits on legislative leaders in Springfield.

  • Creating a two-year, statewide property tax freeze.

Rauner and Madigan have not indicated whether they will support the Senate plan, which failed to advance through the General Assembly so far this week. Senators are hoping to vote on the plan by the end of the month.

Nekritz said it is possible the House could try to pass a short-term spending plan for universities and social services -- which receive a majority of their funding through the state budget -- but similar stopgap measures have been criticized by the governor and other lawmakers in the past.

Nekritz said the long-running budget stalemate makes it difficult to come up with a hard deadline for the legislature to approve a spending plan.

“I don’t see any cliff that we fall over right now. We’ve already jumped off the cliff and so I don’t see any particular deadline out there,” Nekritz said.

Illinois’ domestic violence shelters could be some of the first social services forced to either borrow or make cuts to cover delayed state payments if a deal isn’t reached soon.

Chicago State University has also outlined several of its financial problems.

After meetings last month between the legislative leaders and the governor failed to produce a compromise, Senate Republican and Democratic leaders started talks over several sticking points -- including economic policies Rauner said are necessary to pass to complete a balanced budget, like workers compensation changes, property tax freezes for local governments and term limits on lawmakers. Democrats have argued those policies would not have an immediate impact on the budget and would hurt middle-class workers.

“We’re two years into this. We don’t have a budget. It’s an embarrassment for the state. There’s some real damage that’s already happened. We want to avoid that,” Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said Monday during a joint news conference with Republican Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

“One of the big takeaways from this is for the first time we’re acknowledging that we really do need to link the reforms, the revenue and the budget altogether,” Radogno said.

Lawmakers have yet to come to a budget compromise after a stopgap budget approved last year expired Jan. 1. That temporary budget helped ensure funding to social services and other groups that faced dire financial challenges as Rauner and Madigan could not come to an agreement on a budget plan that included elements of Rauner’s pro-business, union-weakening Turnaround Agenda. 

Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. You can follow him at @tonyjarnold

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