State Government

Illinois lawmakers approve stopgap budget, aid to Chicago schools

Reps. Jack Franks, David McSweeney among the few lawmakers opposed to deal

The General Assembly on Thursday passed a six-month stopgap budget to keep critical services functioning and throw a financial lifeline to Chicago Public Schools, but with vocal opposition from two McHenry County lawmakers.

The three-part plan, negotiated between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders who control the House and Senate, funds state government, social services and state colleges through the end of this calendar year, or for half of the 2017 state fiscal year that starts Friday. The bill funds public schools for the entire fiscal year.

Without a plan – Illinois went through the entire 2016 fiscal year without a budget – authority to spend for public education would have run out, meaning school likely would not have started this fall, months before the Nov. 8 election.

The legislation also reauthorizes funding for state construction projects, which the Illinois Department of Transportation ordered halted effective Friday if the state entered a second straight year without a budget in place.

Thursday’s votes offered a glimmer of hope for a permanent end to a budget standoff between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton – that started in spring 2015. But several local lawmakers called a stopgap budget a coward’s way out, and the CPS relief measures nothing more than a Chicago bailout to be shouldered by all state taxpayers. Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and Jack Franks, D-Marengo, voted against all four budget votes in the House.

McSweeney said the stopgap bill does nothing more than set the stage for a major income tax increase, with no accompanying reforms or major cuts, after the election. McSweeney and Franks accounted for two of the four no votes in the House against Senate Bill 2047, which authorized the spending.

“This could be the worst bill I’ve seen here in Springfield. It does nothing to solve our problems or prevent the day of reckoning,” McSweeney said.

Lawmakers agreed to spend $25 billion in state and federal funds for the current budget year, and another $50 billion for the 2017 fiscal year starting Friday. Schools will get just more than $11 billion to stay open for a full year.Under the plan, schools are getting more than $500 million more in state aid than they did last year.

Democratic House Leader Barbara Flynn Currie acknowledged the plan doesn’t solve that state’s fiscal mess.

“It is meant to keep the lights on,” she said.

As part of Thursday’s deal, lawmakers added $100 million in spending for CPS, and another $150 million for other low-income school districts. While the legislation also allows Chicago to raise property taxes to pay for CPS pensions, it also requires the state next year to pick up $215 million of CPS pension costs – but the release of that money is contingent upon lawmakers approving a broader pension reform bill.

Franks and McSweeney voted against the CPS bills as well. State Reps. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, and Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, voted for the stopgap budget and the CPS bills. While Tryon voted for the overall budget bill, he missed the end vote to allocate the funding.

Wheeler in a statement said this compromise, like any negotiation, has some good elements and elements that leave something to be desired. She said she will continue to fight to make sure social service agencies that have long struggled with delayed and shorted state payments get made whole.

“I am very pleased to see a 12-month, clean education bill that funds our schools at the highest levels in Illinois history with 100 percent of the foundation level included. As budget negotiations for the second half of FY 17 continue, it is reassuring to know that our schoolchildren will be removed from the crossfire,” Wheeler said.

Franks blasted the proposals on the House floor, accusing Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike of caring more about the upcoming election than doing the right thing and passing a full-year budget with pension and other reforms and overhauling the school funding formula.

Franks said the stopgap budget adds billions more to the state’s pile of unpaid bills, and sets the stage at the end of the year for a massive income-tax increase and an expansion of the state sales tax to services.

“This [budget] was not balanced, and we have a constitutional obligation to do that. What this did today is guarantee continued deficit spending, and we’ll probably be adding $7 billion in additional debt because of today’s actions,” Franks said.

Rauner has maintained since he vetoed the 2016 budget that he will not support new tax revenue without major reforms to workers’ compensation, tort liability, collective bargaining and local property taxes, as well as other changes he said are necessary to reverse the state’s dire fiscal condition. Democrats say the governor’s initiatives would hurt middle-class families and have nothing to do with the budget.

The partial budget won’t solve that ideological divide. While Rauner has not gotten his demands, he’s not giving up and said Thursday that November’s elections will determine whether his party has a greater voice to help him achieve what he wants.

“This election will largely determine that outcome,” he said.

McHenry County’s three senators – Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, and Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods – joined a unanimous Senate vote to approve the stopgap budget. But while they voted yes on Senate Bill 318 to allow Chicago to raise property taxes for CPS, Althoff and McConchie voted against Senate Bill 2822, which carried the $215 million CPS pension pickup.

A property-tax increase on Chicago homeowners to fund CPS pensions would come on top of a record four-year, $543 million increase approved last year by the Chicago City Council.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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