SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Despite putting the brakes on a compromise budget plan that could potentially end the nation’s longest budget deadlock in decades, Illinois Senate leaders say they still expect a floor vote Wednesday.
The plan is monstrous, with everything from a 32 percent hike in the income tax to a proposal for making it easier for voters to consolidate or eliminate superfluous local units of government, which adds to the complexity of lining up votes. The problem, too, is monstrous: An estimated end-of-year deficit of $5.3 billion in June, $11 billion in overdue bills to vendors and a $130 billion hole in what’s needed for to pay retirement benefits under five pension plans.
The Senate had lined up all 13 measures for Tuesday committee hearings, where endorsement would send them to a full Senate vote. But Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, opened the Executive Committee, which was to hear nine of the measures, saying members wanted to hear testimony and discuss it in private caucus meetings.
A vote is still possible Wednesday, as Cullerton pledges, but the decision not to seek committee votes Tuesday represented the second glitch in the planned operation this month.
Republicans were skittish about approving the plan earlier this month, but Democrats also appeared put-off by the rush Tuesday. During a discussion of workers’ compensation changes, Chicago Democrat Kwame Raoul said he was uncomfortable making big adjustments while Rauner has put lawmakers “under the gun.”
“It’s not so much that the administration has us under the gun as that we have no budget,” replied Elmhurst Sen. Chris Nybo, the committee’s ranking Republican. “We owe more than we spend and businesses are leaving in droves. That’s the gun that I see were under.”
The package is an attempt to break through the muck and ill will that has grown between the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner has sought changes in legal, business and political climates as part of agreeing to a budget and the likely tax increase necessary to cover costs. Democrats have resisted — it’s largely been identified as a battle between Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago — but Cullerton and Radogno got together late last year to try to work out a bipartisan Senate plan.
Under the plan, the personal income tax would increase from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. The state would borrow $7 billion to pay down overdue bills. There’s a long-sought and huge cost-saving overhaul to the state’s pension program, a vast expansion of legalized riverboat casino gambling, a fairer way of funding public schools, an increase in the minimum wage, and Rauner would get his wish with measures such as a two-year property tax freeze, cost-reductions in the workers’ compensation program, more efficient and cheaper state purchasing and allowing voters more leeway in eliminating local governments in Illinois, which has nearly 7,000.
After all, Rauner’s budget office estimated last week the plan would still leave Illinois with a $4.3 billion deficit on the June 30 end of the fiscal year, a reduction of only $1 billion from what is estimated if nothing is done. Senators have said they will work with the legislation so that the General Assembly can balance the budget. And fiscal experts say it will take more than a year to get the state of its fiscal mess.
Associated Press writer Kiannah Sepeda-Miller contributed to this report.