Illinois ends spring session without a FY
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[June 01, 2016]
By Dave McKinney
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Reuters) - The
Democrat-controlled Illinois Legislature ended its spring session late
Tuesday, failing to produce a full fiscal 2017 budget to tackle
financial woes or even a plan to fund schools.
Hours before the session ended Republican Governor Bruce Rauner
chastised Democrats for their "stunning failure" on the budget
"We're like a banana republic. We can't manage our money," he said
at a news conference.
A House-passed budget that Rauner vowed to veto for being more than
$7 billion short on revenue failed badly in a Senate vote.
Illinois has limped through fiscal 2016 as the only U.S. state
without a complete budget, operating under court-ordered spending,
and continuing and stopgap appropriations.
The governor last year vetoed all but a school funding bill in the
Democrats' budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The impasse between Rauner and Democrats showed no sign of easing
and could leave the nation's fifth-largest state runningon a similar
autopilot as the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Vendors, social services providers, state universities, community
colleges and others that have received partial or no funding over
the last year are reaching breaking point. That in turn could bring
widespread operational problems if the state is unable to obtain
food, utilities, fuel and other essentials.
"Real people are going to suffer. Real people are going to die,"
warned Democratic State Representative Jack Franks.
The legislature also failed to approve a stand-alone K-12 education
budget. A $15.7-billion bill to ensure schools open in the fall
passed the Senate but was soundly defeated in the House.
Its demise leaves the financially struggling Chicago Public Schools
(CPS) without an additional $475 million in funding in part to help
pay for rising contributions to teacher pensions. CPS officials have
warned of "draconian" spending cuts to deal with a $1 billion budget
Democratic leaders on Tuesday refused to immediately take up
Rauner's short-term budget plan, shunting it off to a bipartisan
working group. Future budget deliberations will be complicated by
the fact that a tougher, three-fifths voting majority to pass a bill
kicks in on Wednesday.
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House Speaker Michael Madigan has made clear his chamber will meet
every week during June to work on a budget.
The inability to send
Rauner a spending plan exposed an unusual level of dysfunction
within the Democratic Party, whose super majorities in both
legislative chambers were racked by infighting over how best to
confront the 11-month impasse with the governor.
The Senate’s refusal to adopt a budget plan bearing the clear
imprint of Madigan, the state party chairman, represented a stinging
rebuke to the longest-serving statehouse speaker in America and a
setback Rauner allies called a "catastrophe" for Democrats.
Within the 39-member Senate Democratic majority, some senators
complained they were unable to have input in the House-passed plan,
which arrived last week as a take-it-or-leave it proposition, one of
Madigan’s legislative hallmarks over the years in his dealings with
Illinois’ upper legislative chamber.
"There was a lot of resentment over the way it was passed," said
Senate President John Cullerton.
Without a budget, Illinois, which already has the lowest bond
ratings among the 50 states, risks harming its credit standing
further. Credit rating agencies have warned of downgrades if the
state fails to tackle its $111-billion unfunded pension liability
and huge structural budget deficit.
The governor's budget office has hired consultants to help disengage
from interest rate swap pacts that could cost the state more than
$100 million if its ratings fall below specified levels.
(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew
Lewis and Clarence Fernandez)
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