After weeks of struggling to come to an agreement, Republicans and Democrats
have settled on Senate Bill 1810, which will fund government operations for the
next six months and ensure that schools open on time in the fall.
The overall agreement package does give the city of Chicago the ability to raise
property taxes by $250 million to fund teacher pensions (Senate Bill 318) and
covers $215 million in Chicago teacher pensions in fiscal year 2017 (Senate Bill
2822). But the package of reforms does not provide the full bailout city
officials sought initially. If Chicago politicians want to ignore the city’s
dire need for spending and pension reform and instead ask taxpayers to cover
more of their recklessness, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen will have to
accept the blame for that decision. And the full burden of funding Chicago
pensions won’t be borne by taxpayers across the state – Chicagoans will feel the
pain if city officials choose to raise property taxes within less than a year of
the city’s record tax hike. The unfortunate truth for Chicago residents is that
property taxes will have to more than double to be able to fund the city’s $34
billion in pension debt.
Another important feature of the stopgap plan is that it ensures funding for
critical human services, road construction, prison operations and veterans care.
The bill also provides $1 billion for higher education, including one semester’s
worth of Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students, according to the
With the prospect of another Chicago property-tax hike one step closer to
reality and no foundational reforms yet achieved, even a compromise like this
one can feel deflating. But the good news is that this plan buys six months to
get back to work on the real reforms Illinois needs.
“Let’s be clear,” Rauner said after the vote. “This is just a small step in the
process of making Illinois strong and healthy and vibrant. This is a small step
in the right direction. … This is a bridge to reform.”
“Reforms are essential, and our efforts to get significant reform for the people
of Illinois will never cease.”
With this critical fight settled, Illinois must still come to an agreement with
its largest state-worker union, the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees, which is asking for a salary and benefits package that
would cost state taxpayers an additional $3 billion. Illinois state workers are
already the highest-paid state workers in the country when adjusted for the cost
of living. Negotiations are deadlocked until the Illinois Labor Relations Board
rules on a request from Gov. Bruce Rauner to expedite impasse hearings.
Illinois needs a balanced budget for 2017
Until the stopgap compromise, the most recent budget proposal overspent by $7
billion, and ultimately failed in the Senate.
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The state can’t endure more of the same – Illinois hasn’t had a
truly balanced budget since 2001. Illinois politicians continue to
spend more money than the state takes in, driven largely by pension
costs, which consume 25 percent of the entire state general fund
budget. Tax hikes most certainly won’t fix the problem, as 90
percent of the more than $31 billion Illinois took in between 2011
and 2014 from the 2011 income-tax hike went directly to pensions –
and the state still has the worst pension crisis in the nation.
Not all lawmakers are pleased with the General Assembly’s vote.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said Illinois lawmakers were
“knowingly and willingly violating the Constitution.” He also warned
that “after the election” taxpayers will see “a massive tax
Politicians need to come to terms with the fact that taxpayers are
providing more than enough money to fund state operations – tax
revenues have grown 70 percent more than inflation over the last 33
years. Illinoisans can’t afford to be squeezed even more.
House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, who continues to stand firm
in his support for funding state-worker pay and benefits over all
else, said after the House stopgap vote that Illinois must protect
the middle class. “Our work is not finished,” he said.
Problem is, Madigan’s “middle class” doesn’t refer to Illinois’
private-sector workers – Madigan instead wants the private sector to
pay for an additional $3 billion in state-worker salary,
health-insurance and pension benefits, even as Illinoisans suffer in
a state with the nation’s second-worst jobs recovery.
Even during the floor debate over the stopgap measures, it was clear
that despite the bills’ ultimate passage, the stage is being set for
more conflict in Springfield, including agitation for the Illinois
comptroller to resume paying state lawmakers.
“As legislators we should get paid for the work that we do, and I
think it’s wrong for our income to be held for months and months and
months,” said state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood.
Lightford went on to note that the Illinois comptroller should
prioritize lawmaker pay because they are “not vendors.” Illinois has
$7.8 billion in unpaid bills.
Despite the continued discord in Springfield, the passage of
Illinois’ stopgap spending plan provides an opportunity to pause,
reflect and hit reset – and then get back to work fixing a state in
desperate need of repair.
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