Legislators are now in their local offices and need to be talked to about the need for new
revenue, closing costly state institutions and paying community providers this summer.
More on the state’s budget crisis and important budget deadlines reviewed in this Chicago
Stormy summer on horizon
Battles loom for Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats as the pressure points to make a
budget deal remain many weeks away
By Monique Garcia, Jessie Hellmann and Rick Pearson Chicago Tribune
SPRINGFIELD — As Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the
General Assembly dig in for a summer of battling over the budget, the pressure points to
cut a deal before state services are interrupted remain many weeks away.
Democrats have passed a spending plan, but so far they’re refusing to send it to Rauner
out of fears he’d veto it. Democrats acknowledge that their version is more than $3 billion
short, and Rauner has strongly criticized them for what he says is trying to force a tax
increase without first making changes. Before discussing a tax hike, the governor wants
lawmakers to approve a series of his plans that would make it harder for workers to win
workers’ compensation claims, limit big-dollar damage awards in civil lawsuits and scale
back the influence of labor unions.
The new state financial year starts July 1, and without a budget agreement, Rauner has
no spending authority to keep state government running. But a shutdown wouldn’t happen
right away — the more important deadline comes in mid-July, when Illinois’ comptroller is
scheduled to issue the first government worker paychecks. If a budget isn’t in place by
then, many legal questions would arise about whether the comptroller’s office has the
authority to cut checks or if a court order would be required to spend the money, as
employee unions have pursued in past budget standoffs.
The next cliff would come Aug. 10, when state aid payments to schools are scheduled to
go out. While school districts with extra cash on hand could likely operate without state
funding, a worst-case scenario could lead to some poorer schools unable to open when
classes start. “Between the middle of July and middle of August, there will be significant
to continue to operate the state’s core services,” said Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers
Grove. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw severe downsizing, temporary layoffs or
Also swirling in the budget mire is a $634 million pension payment that Chicago Public
Schools must make June 30. Some lawmakers question whether the city can make good
on the bill or if the state will have to pony up some cash to help or make other changes
to ease the burden. Asked whether CPS has the money to cover that payment, a district
spokesman could not provide an answer Friday or Monday.
Rauner has said his office is working on a contingency plan and weighing “all possible
scenarios” should the budget quagmire stretch on for months. But he declined to go into
detail during a Sunday news conference, saying he was “optimistic” a deal could be
reached to avert a shutdown. A spokesman for Republican Comptroller Leslie Munger,
who was appointed by Rauner in January, was unable to provide more information
Some expenditures are automatic and won’t be caught up in the back and forth, chief
among them the annual payment for employee pensions as well as debt payments.
Federal consent decrees also ensure that most operations in the state’s child welfare
agency would continue. All of this is hardly uncharted territory in Illinois, where lawmakers
have gone into overtime
nine times in the past quarter-century. Past gridlock saw the state operate without a
finished budget for months. The longest stretch came in 2007, when then-Gov. Rod
Blagojevich went to battle against fellow Democrats to push for a major increase in
education spending and a massive expansion of state-subsidized health care. House
Speaker Michael Madigan favored a smaller budget.
That year, lawmakers sent the governor a one-month temporary budget. A permanent
one wasn’t signed until Aug. 23. School districts got their payments days late but largely
were unaffected by the delay, according to state education officials. Some banks offered
interest-free loans for districts that didn’t have the cash to operate without state money. A
similar temporary budget was enacted to pay worker salaries during nearly eight weeks of
overtime under Blagojevich in 2004.
Rauner has indicated he’s ready for a lengthy battle and is prepared to take his fight to
the people, which is expected to take the form of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign
that could begin within days. Madigan has compared Rauner to Blagojevich in how the
new governor deals with the General Assembly. Rauner, meanwhile, counters that the one
constant in the state’s budget turmoil is Madigan.
The personal attacks indicate that a resolution isn’t likely to happen any time soon, even
as Madigan has House members returning to the Capitol on Thursday. At this point,
coming back to town has less to do with hashing out an agreement than giving Democrats
a venue to lash out at Rauner over the expected attack ads.
On Monday, Rauner used the absence of lawmakers at the Capitol to propel his public
relations campaign through a series of one-on-one interviews with television and radio
stations across the state. The governor continued to bash the Democrats for “working for
the political class” rather than the middle class, and he singled out Madigan, whose law
firm is one of the city’s most successful commercial property tax-appeals firms.
“You look at the property taxes. We basically, us and New Jersey, have the highest
property taxes in America. I wonder who makes money from high property taxes? I
wonder? You know what? Do a little homework and people will figure it out,” Rauner told
WGNAM 720. “The insiders are the ones benefiting in Illinois, the political class: Speaker
Madigan, (Senate) President (John) Culler-ton, their allies, and that’s what we’ve got to
Rauner also indicated that the fate of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wish list, including a bill to
revamp a payment schedule to avoid the full force of a $550 million increase in police and
fire pensions, is part of the overall budget negotiations. Rauner said Emanuel should be
part of the negotiations with top lawmakers, but the Republican governor stopped short of
saying he would veto the mayor’s pension bill that has passed both chambers and is on
hold as part of the stalemate.
“We need to stop kicking the can down the road on our pensions, No. 1. And No. 2, we
need to come together and meet on a bipartisan basis to discuss true structural change to
the pensions that are fair to employees but also more affordable to taxpayers. And that’s
critical. We’re going to focus on that this month,” the governor told WBEZ-FM 91.5.
Rauner acknowledged his need “to get our message out to the people of Illinois” but
repeatedly declined to discuss his coming TV ad campaign. “Speculating about the future
on messaging is not productive right now,” he said.
The tense political situation, coupled with the state’s multi-billion deficit, has left some
lawmakers with little hope that even stopgap budget measures could be worked out.
“One-month budgets have been done in the past, but the circumstances are very
different,” said Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago. “We’re dealing with less revenue,
there’s been a change in dynamics. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it’s more of a
Republican Sen. Matt Murphy, of Palatine, said the focus so far has remained
on crafting Republican Sen. Matt Murphy, of Palatine, said the focus so far has remained
a complete budget, and that it’s up to Democrats to compromise “sooner rather than later.”
“The piecemeal approach hasn’t been something that we’ve been talking about,” Murphy
said. “I really feel like the ball is in (the Democrats’) court at this point.”
A Cullerton spokeswoman said Senate Democrats are trying to craft legislation that
might pave the way for a compromise, namely on Rauner’s push to freeze property taxes
and enact workers’ compensation reform. Whether that can be done before the start of
the new budget year is unclear.
“These are things that were on the table before they declared that negotiations were
over, and we will keep working on them and bring a counterproposal,” Culler-ton
spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
Others say there’s no need to consider a temporary budget because lawmakers already
approved one, and it’s now up to Rauner to manage it as he sees fit.
“We have a budget that passed,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
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