Local Government

McHenry County lawmakers sound off on Illinois budget impasse

It won’t be the first time if Illinois starts its next budget year Wednesday without an actual budget in place.

In 2007, the General Assembly had to pass a one-month temporary budget as lawmakers feuded with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A full budget for fiscal 2008 was not approved for another six weeks.

The dynamics of this budget showdown, however, are far different from the Blagojevich era, when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were somewhat united against the machinations of the Democratic governor who would later be impeached and sent to federal prison.

Illinois has its first divided government in 12 years with the election of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who last week vetoed all but the education portion of a 2016 budget that’s unbalanced by between $3 billion and $4 billion. What’s more, Rauner has rejected the idea of any type of temporary budget, linking the Democratic majority’s wants and needs to reforms he ran on last year to help fix a state in an economic crisis he said voters gave him a mandate to fix.

Without either a temporary or permanent budget in place, Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said most payments handled by the office will stop Wednesday, from paychecks for state workers to reimbursement for hospitals, vendors and other groups.

Local lawmakers, who will return to Springfield on Tuesday – the session never was formally adjourned May 31 in anticipation of a budget battle – are split on whether a shutdown will be avoided, or how long it will last.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said he thinks lawmakers early next week will cobble together a temporary budget, and that both sides will come around to accepting it to give breathing room to hammer out a compromise without hurting people and agencies reliant on funding.

“I believe, at that time, we’ll probably pass a maintenance budget, send it to the governor and see what he does. I think it’s in the best interest to keep government operating because people need services,” Franks said.

Democratic lawmakers who control the House and Senate passed a $36.3 billion budget that includes cuts and new, but not identified, revenue. Rauner vetoed it, citing not only the long-ignored balanced-budget provision of the Illinois Constitution, but also the need for reform.

Rauner wants to tie any talk of increased tax revenue to concessions that include a property tax freeze, workers’ compensation reform and putting constitutional amendments on the ballot to enact term limits and to reform how legislative districts are drawn. He has, for now, taken off the table reform initiatives the Democrats steadfastly oppose, such as right-to-work legislation.

“The road back to fiscal sanity starts today with my veto of a budget that is nearly $4 billion out of balance and includes no reform. We cannot accept the status quo of throwing more taxpayer money into a broke and broken system,” Rauner wrote in his veto message.

One advantage Rauner has in any budget battle is the fact House Speaker Michael Madigan could have a hard time overriding him. While Madigan, on paper, has a 71-seat House Democratic supermajority, it is fractured on fiscal matters. Franks has said he will not support any kind of a tax hike, and several newer suburban Democratic members have likewise opposed raising taxes.

Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, shares Rauner’s opposition to a temporary budget, but on more optimistic grounds. He said there is no reason lawmakers and Rauner cannot finalize a balanced budget in the days before the new fiscal year.

“We should do our jobs and get it done by Tuesday. Why a short-term budget or a shutdown? Let’s just do our jobs,” McSweeney said.

McSweeney and Franks said Rauner’s decision to approve the just under $7 billion budget for K-12 education appears to be an act of good faith and a conciliatory gesture meant to approach common ground.

“I don’t think we’re that far apart,” Franks said.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, also said some effort will be made to have both sides sit down and talk about reforms, or at the very least an effort to keep state funding temporarily flowing until a permanent solution can be reached. But how, and when, the impasse will end is something Tryon admitted he could not predict with any certainty.

“We’re in uncharted territory, and I have not ever seen the division in Springfield that I see now,” Tryon said. “In the 12 years I’ve been there, it’s not something I’m familiar with, in which government actually shuts down.”

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