Legislature, governor set national futility record

Activists with the March to Springfield hold a protest and rally outside the governor's office at the Capitol in Springfield Tuesday.
Activists with the March to Springfield hold a protest and rally outside the governor's office at the Capitol in Springfield Tuesday.

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois General Assembly that launched the careers of such political giants as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas and Barack Obama and the governor’s office once occupied by Adlai Stevenson II have set a record in futility in failing to agree on an annual spending plan for more than two years, the longest fiscal drought of any state since at least the Great Depression.

The Democratic-led Legislature and first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have stared each other down since 2015. They have until 12:01 a.m. Thursday before striking out again and facing the possibility of entering a third consecutive year with no spending blueprint.

Agreeing on a budget after May 31 requires a three-fifths majority vote, which would make it all the harder.

Here’s a look at how it developed and what might come next:


Racing against the deadline, the House is considering a Senate-adopted plan that spends $37.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, but is funded by a $5.4 billion tax increase and would reduce spending by $3 billion.

Their scrambling may be for naught, as Rauner’s budget chief has termed the direction they’re heading a “bad deal for taxpayers” that the governor would veto. Democrats likely don’t have enough votes to override Rauner’s veto so the deadlock would continue.

And the election for governor and large parts of the Legislature looms in 2018, making it even harder for either side to compromise.


Rauner, a private equity investor, won his first public office in 2014 on an anti-tax, pro-business agenda of government repair, once even suggesting it might require a government shutdown, or “do-over.”

As he was inaugurated, a temporary, five-year Democratic income tax increase that had provided up to $7 billion extra a year, was allowed to expire, and the tax rate rolled back. Predictably, revenues fell far short of spending and red ink piled up.

Rauner demanded cost-cutting changes to workers’ compensation laws, which he says are needed to lure businesses to Illinois. He also wants a freeze on local property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. And he is seeking term limits on politicians, a thinly veiled attack on entrenched Democrats such as Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who will soon be the nation’s longest-serving speaker at 34 years. Democrats, who have large majorities in the Legislature, said Rauner’s demands were an attack on the middle class and had nothing to do with the budget.


State government did not shut down. Instead, it limped along largely because of federal court orders requiring the spending of incoming tax revenues, and due to some periodic appropriations.

The result has been catastrophic. Vendors wait six months to be paid from a $14.5 billion pile of overdue bills. The fiscal year will end June 30 with a deficit pushing $6 billion. Pensions for retired and current state employees are more than $100 billion short of what’s necessary.


Desperate to break the deadlock, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno tried to devise a compromise plan. The “grand bargain” provided for a hefty income tax hike, Democratic-friendly initiatives to help low-income families and proposals such as a property tax freeze and workers compensation changes to appease Rauner.

Attempted votes, false starts and finger-pointing ate up much of the spring.

With time running out last week, Senate Democrats frustrated with the pace of negotiations, went it alone, adopting a budget plan they said was based on Republican proposals, which raised taxes and cut spending.

Senate Democrats approved workers compensation changes and, on Monday, a two-year property-tax freeze, which Republicans said was not long enough.

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In a Sunday memo to House members, Rauner budget director Scott Harry said the governor sees a massive tax increase with no “meaningful” reforms.

Wrote Harry: “If this bad deal for taxpayers comes to the governor’s desk, he will veto it.”

After Wednesday, approving a budget – or overriding a veto – would require 36 votes in the Senate, where there are 37 Democrats. The House’s 67 Democrats would need GOP votes to achieve a 71-vote supermajority.


Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at . His work can be found at’connor

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