[May 16, 2014]CHICAGO (Reuters) - Democratic
lawmakers pushed dozens of fiscal 2015 appropriations bills through the
Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday over protests largely from
Republicans that the money does not exist to pay for higher spending.
The bills for the budget that takes effect July 1 were based on
Governor Pat Quinn's preferred spending plan that calls for making
permanent higher income tax rates that were put in place in 2011 and
are scheduled to partially expire on January 1. But instead of
voting first on the taxes, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan
decided to start with appropriations.
"Our purpose in advancing the budget first is to set the bar against
which we will work to convince people to vote for the revenue,"
Madigan told reporters on Wednesday.
At the beginning of Thursday's marathon budget session, House
Republican Leader Jim Durkin said that the budget process was taking
the wrong turn.
"We are voting today for an unconstitutional budget, plain and
simple," he said.
Republican lawmakers complained that Democrats ignored the chamber's
agreed-upon $34.5 billion general fund revenue target and instead
passed $37.35 billion in spending that requires revenue from the
higher income tax rates.
Christopher Mooney, director of the Illinois Institute of Government
& Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said Illinois
lawmakers face a tough choice of voting for higher taxes going into
November's general election or enacting a budget with significant
As for the legality of the House's action so far on the budget,
Mooney said the budget is not officially passed until both chambers
approve the same spending and revenue plan.
The bills now head to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where Senate
President John Cullerton is confident he has the necessary votes to
make the income tax rates permanent, according to his spokeswoman
"We have a number of members that are more interested in the
traditional approach to constructing budgets," she said. "So they
are hopeful that the house will send the revenue bills to support
the budget shortly."
Meanwhile, Illinois, which is sinking under a $100 billion unfunded
public pension liability, will have to delay implementation of
controversial pension reforms until a state judge determines if the
law, passed in December, is constitutional. Those reforms aim to
save the state about $145 million over 30 years.
On Thursday, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and Fitch Ratings
said that Wednesday's ruling by a Sangamon County Circuit Court
judge, stopping the law from taking effect on June 1, will not
affect Illinois' credit ratings, which are the lowest among the
Also on Thursday, the Illinois Attorney General's office filed
responses to lawsuits brought by unions, retiree groups and others,
contending the law is a permissible exercise of the state's
sovereign powers in light of the magnitude of the pension funding