Lawmakers head home without budget

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Illinois lawmakers were abruptly sent home Friday, without approving a new state budget and with no firm date to return to Springfield and finish their work.
The Senate on Friday approved the pieces of at least a shaky spending plan for next year. Only hours later, however, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, told House members they would be taking a break.
“When we are prepared to finish our business, we will come back to Springfield,” Madigan said.
Completing the session’s business should take only one or two days, Madigan said, but he did not say when that would be. He would not answer questions from the media.
Friday was the General Assembly’s self-imposed deadline for passing a new budget and completing the spring legislative session. The more important date, however, is May 31. After that, it will take a supermajority vote in each chamber to pass a budget, which will bring House Republicans into play.
“It’s going to be before June 1, I can tell you that much,” Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said when asked when he expects lawmakers to return.
“I talked to (Madigan) in general about the fact that he doesn’t have the necessary votes to pass the bills that we have passed here,” Cullerton said. “Every once in a while, this happens at the end of the year, where people feel like they need some extra items in the budget.”
'Getting ducks in a row'
“I wouldn’t call it taking time off, I would call it getting our ducks in a row to get our budget passed,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a top Madigan aide.
The House is stalemated because representatives have balked at all three main options available to closing a $13 billion state budget gap: raising taxes, borrowing money or making significant budget cuts.
“We have no budget plan at the moment that (majorities) of the House and Senate could approve,” Lang said.
Actually, the Senate approved a budget plan that contains significant borrowing and would leave many bills unpaid at the end of the year.
The Senate also voted to give Quinn authority to juggle funds and tap into restricted accounts for cash, and senators passed a bill that essentially allows the state to skip a $3.8 billion pension payment if Quinn feels the money isn’t available.
The pension systems said even delaying the payments by six months, another option available, will cost the already underfunded systems billions of dollars
None of those bills, however, was called for a vote in the House.
Pension borrowing defeated again
The House did take a second stab Friday at borrowing money to make the pension payment, a plan that earlier in the week fell short of the necessary 71 votes. The measure got only 59 votes this time.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said borrowing is the best way to make the pension payments and avoid deeper budget cuts, but Republicans flatly oppose more borrowing, and even some Democrats opposed the bill.
“They are not going to get Republican votes for pension borrowing,” said Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, the Republican candidate for governor.
Madigan then tried to make a point by presenting a budget bill that contained $3.8 billion in budget cuts, all focused on education.
“For those who said consistently they want to cut the budget, here is the cut budget,” Madigan said.
That proposal was rejected on a 15-99 vote.
Closed-door meeting
The two votes took place after Quinn met with House Democrats behind closed doors for more than three hours to discuss budget issues.
Quinn’s office issued a statement Friday night that only said the governor will continue working on a budget that is “fair, responsible and preserves education funding.”
The House also hasn’t taken up a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax, which supporters said will help the state to the tune of $300 million when combined with federal Medicaid matching funds. Trying to put further pressure on the House, the Senate Friday approved a bill that increases education spending by $300 million if the cigarette tax hike is approved.
Currie said the cigarette tax also doesn’t have the votes to pass. Some House members object to any tax increases, and those representing border areas fear a higher tax in Illinois will drive smokers to other states to buy their cigarettes.