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Dems push 'grand bargain' votes in Senate, declare progress

Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, speaks at a news conference accompanied by Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, right, and Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. The Republican senators were making a plea for more time to continue negotiating a budget deal with Senate Democrats. Democrats plan to call parts of the "grand bargain" budget compromise Wednesday as the clock ticks down toward the end of the legislative session. (AP Photo/John O'Connor)
Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, speaks at a news conference accompanied by Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, right, and Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. The Republican senators were making a plea for more time to continue negotiating a budget deal with Senate Democrats. Democrats plan to call parts of the "grand bargain" budget compromise Wednesday as the clock ticks down toward the end of the legislative session. (AP Photo/John O'Connor)

SPRINGFIELD – Major portions of what is supposed to be the bipartisan “grand bargain” budget compromise won Illinois Senate approval Wednesday in a largely partisan manner, setting off more maneuvering as lawmakers attempt to avoid a third consecutive year without a budget and with the 2018 race for governor heating up.

Majority Democrats proclaimed progress in approving overhauls of a deficit-laden state pension system, an antiquated and unfair means of financing public schools, a measure to encourage consolidating the most local government bodies of any state in the nation and even a $36.5 billion budget plan for the coming year.

“Do ya think it’s going to get any better, seriously?” Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago challenged Republicans during floor debate.

But it was done largely without the help of Republicans, and the results were uneven, at best. While the majority put votes on a budget plan initiated by the GOP and which spends $1 billion less than the one floated by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the body failed to garner enough “ayes” to OK legislation to authorize its implementation or the $3.6 billion in cuts Democrats crowed about.

And that is to say nothing of the other measures that have yet to be settled – lynchpins of Rauner’s agenda. They include a two-year freeze on the nation’s second-highest property taxes, which was voted on and defeated, and a measure Cullerton didn’t call for a vote that covers cost-saving changes in a workers’ compensation program that Rauner claims is driving business out of the state. Nor did he call a vote on increasing the personal income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. It’s part of the GOP budget plan, but they won’t support it without all the structural changes they seek.

Deputy Minority Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington, the Republican who authored the budget outline that was adopted, started the day alongside colleagues pleading for more time. They have claimed for weeks they’re close to full compromise with the Democrats.

“There are people in here who want to wait until these are unanimous roll calls, and they never will be,” Sen. Toi Hutchinson, an Olympia Fields Democrat, said during debate.

The state’s fiscal problems are legend. It will end the budget year June 30 nearly $6 billion in debt, and Wednesday, the state’s total of overdue bills hit $14.3 billion, a record high.

Brady repeated GOP concerns Wednesday that sending pieces of the grand bargain to the House without consensus on all of it would hamstring its chances. Later, Assistant Republican Leader Jason Barickman of Bloomington derided the “political show orchestrated by Democrats who are trying to portray agreement that does not yet exist.”

Cullerton said lawmakers are close to a bipartisan deal on workers’ comp changes, and he would call that bill Thursday. But he said it would be economic disaster for schools and other local governments to freeze property taxes for more than two years. Rauner wants a permanent freeze and Senate Republicans have proposed a four-year freeze.

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