Why Illinois Lawmakers Failed To Reach A Budget Agreement | WBEZ
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Why Illinois Lawmakers Failed To Reach A Budget Agreement

As Illinois state government enters its 11th month without a state budget, Illinois lawmakers ended the Spring legislative session Tuesday without a clear picture of how a full budget will be achieved. Instead, lawmakers agreed to continue to meet over the summer to continue to debate a budget compromise, in a repeat of last year’s end-of-session drama that also ended without an agreed-upon budget plan for the state.

“Today we end the Spring session to the General Assembly in stunning failure,” Gov. Bruce Rauner told reporters. He asked that Democrats who have a super-majority of representatives and senators to approve a temporary state budget, that would also give direction to local school districts around the state as to how much state money they will be receiving.

Instead, Democrats approved a different budget plan that Rauner has said he would veto.

Here are some questions and answers about how the state got here, and what could happen next:

Q: What's the problem?

A: Rauner and the state's top Democrats, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, have been at odds since the governor took office promising to make Illinois more economically competitive. To do that, Rauner says the Legislature must pass measures such as limiting collective bargaining by public-worker unions and reducing the cost to businesses of workers' compensation insurance.

Rauner says that if Democrats agree to some of those changes, he'll sign off on tax increases to help close Illinois' multibillion-dollar budget deficit. But Democrats say the governor's own proposals will harm middle class families, unions and vulnerable residents.

They've gone almost 11 months without agreeing on a plan for the current fiscal year. While much spending has continued because of court orders or state law, funding to universities and many social service agencies has stopped. That's led to layoffs, closures and a lot of uncertainty.

With time running out in the current legislative session, House Democrats last week approved a Madigan-backed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Q: Why are schools at risk?

A: Last year, Democrats sent Rauner an out-of-balance budget that was separated into multiple pieces of legislation. Rauner vetoed everything except the bill that included K-12 education, leaving schools largely unaffected by the impasse this fiscal year and relieving one of the biggest pressures on lawmakers to get a deal.

But this time, Democrats put everything in one bill. That has school districts worried that if Rauner vetoes the measure, they won't get state money they normally would begin receiving this summer.

Many school districts have cash reserves or will receive local property tax money in time to open this fall. But depending how long the impasse stretches on, administrators say they could have trouble continuing to pay teachers and keep utilities on. That's particularly true in poorer districts.

Q: What does House Democrats' budget do?

A: The roughly $40 billion budget, which the Senate is expected to take up Tuesday, would increase funding for K-12 education by $700 million. It allows spending occurring under court order or consent decrees, such as Medicaid, to continue at current rates.

Democrats call it an "insurance policy" that will keep schools open and government functioning.

Politically, it also allows Democrats to head into the November elections — when all House seats and several Senate seats are up for re-election — telling voters they approved a big increase in education funding and money for a lot of other popular programs.

If Rauner vetoes the bill, as promised, they'll blame him for the fallout.

His aides say Rauner is willing to take the risk because he's confident voters will side with his message of fiscal responsibility and the need for reform.

He and his fellow Republicans say the plan is Democrats' way of continuing to spend at unsustainable levels, without having to take the politically tough vote to raise taxes to pay for it.

Rauner also wants Democrats to cave to some of his pro-business demands. He says they are key to improving Illinois' economy, which ultimately would fix the state's fiscal situation. Politically speaking, he also needs to begin delivering on many campaign promises.

Q: Why not use a line-item veto on everything but school funding?

A: Democrats have long argued that Rauner could simply use his veto powers to craft a balanced budget from what they send him.

Rauner's budget director has said that's "a myth." The overwhelming majority of state spending — such as pension and debt payments and Medicaid — is controlled by statute, and requires the Legislature's help to change.

That leaves only small portions of the budget where Rauner could make changes. And in order to close a $7 billion budget hole in those few areas, he'd have to make massive cuts — in the neighborhood of 40 percent — to things like schools, the Department of Corrections and higher education.

"Obviously that's not a solution," said Tim Nuding, Rauner's budget director. Lawmakers also could override any line-item reductions Rauner makes with a simple majority vote, rather than the three-fifths vote typically required to undo a veto.

Rauner is now pushing for a stop-gap funding plan to cover the cost of human services, prisons and other spending. He also wants lawmakers to send him a separate bill to fund schools.

Q: Why was Tuesday so important?

A: There are two reasons. After Tuesday, it requires a three-fifths majority of legislators rather than a simple majority to pass a budget bill, making it far tougher to get the necessary "yes" votes.

But Tuesday also is the deadline for candidates running for office in November to file with the state elections board. After that 5 p.m. deadline, lawmakers will know for certain whether they'll face a challenge this fall. And that could inform some budget votes in the Illinois Senate, where even some Democrats were lukewarm to the plan approved by their House colleagues last week.

That means any movement on a budget in the Senate isn't likely to occur until evening, after the election field is set.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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