When former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached in January, there was hope at the Capitol that things would run more smoothly. But with the start of a new fiscal year quickly approaching, Illinois is still without a budget.
When former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached in January, there was hope at the Capitol that things would run more smoothly.
But with the start of a new fiscal year quickly approaching, Illinois is still without a budget.
Lawmakers did pass a budget earlier in the spring that maintains most of state government but cuts about half of the grants for social services like childcare and addiction treatment programs.
Quinn has said he won't sign it, saying he instead wants to see an income tax increase so the majority of funding for social services can be restored.
Quinn called a special session of the legislature last week to try and hammer out the details of a budget everyone could agree on, but the session came and went without an agreement.
"We're at a standstill at the moment," said Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria.
Legislators return to the Capitol on Monday to get back to work on the problem. Here's what lawmakers from both parties and chambers have to say about the budget debacle with July 1 on the horizon:
Republicans blame the gridlock on being shut out of budget negotiations, while the Democrats blame the Republicans' unwillingness to participate.
"The stubborn intransigents of the House Republicans are standing in the way of us finding significant new revenue to fill the budget gaps," said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.
But Risinger says that "from what I see, the Democrats haven't changed their position much to include us in the process."
Another area of contention between Republicans and Democrats is the actual amount of a budget shortfall the state is facing. Quinn's office says it is $9.2 billion. Some Republicans, like Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, think that number is bloated.
"The hole is not that big when you consider the federal stimulus dollars coming in," Syverson said. "The hole is somewhere between $2 and $3 billion."
Quinn flatly rejected those estimates at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday, saying he sticks by the $9.2 billion figure.
Regardless of the figure, it seems there is one pressing question facing legislators: to tax or not to tax.
Many lawmakers agree that a mix of solutions including Medicaid reform, program cuts and state worker layoffs are the way to get out of the budget hole. But the real question is whether an income tax increase should be included.
Syverson says a tax increase isn't necessary to solve the state's budget woes.
"The Democrats are only looking for a huge amount of tax dollars so they can fund new programs and government pay raises," he said.
Fellow Republican Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield disagrees. He says a temporary income tax increase is needed to stave off massive state worker layoffs and more furlough days.
"Where do state employees come from?" asked Bomke. "Not the suburbs of Chicago. They come from central Illinois. These layoffs will have a significant effect on my district."
But even before they get to debating that point, Republican lawmakers say a short-term budget should be passed to buy more time.
"We could do a temporary budget," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. "We could base it on the '08 level, which would be a reduction of spending from what is currently on the table."
Rep. Lang, however, is leaning against relying on a month-to-month budget. He says that it is "a recipe for us being here every month and never resolving the problem."
Another solution that seems to be gaining steam at the Capitol is a plan to borrow against pension funds to free up an estimated $2.2 billion.
"I'm not happy with that idea. It's the same thing Blagojevich did," said Syverson. "They want to skip the pension payment and borrow money to make it."
Many lawmakers, despite those questions, agree the plan would free up more money and say it has a good chance of being passed by the legislature this week.
The Next Steps
Gov. Quinn has marked July 1 as the "doomsday" for when the budget ax could come down on human services throughout the state. But despite this warning, many lawmakers from both parties agree that this budget fight will drag on well past Wednesday.
"The chances of coming to an agreement are not very good," said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville. "We won't reach an agreement by July 1."
Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, is hopeful that a vote on some solution could come early next week, though he is less optimistic that vote will actually solve anything.
"It's very possible we could have something to vote on Tuesday," he said. "It's also possible it could all fall apart. But I think there's a serious effort on everyone's part to try to get this thing done."
Rep. Lang said Quinn wants an income tax increase vote next week, but he thinks the vote shouldn't take place unless the governor secures "a list of people who he's converted."
Without some signs that a tax increase has more support, Lang believes many legislators will chose not to stick their necks out politically for it.
"From the legislative point of view, some will say, 'I'll go out on a limb and I'll vote for that and I'll pay the political price, whatever it is, because it's in the best interest of Illinois,' " he said. "'But why should I do it if I know it's going to fail?'"
Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, thinks the legislature will come to "a limited solution" that will at least hold off Quinn's threatened doomsday.
"I don't think we are going to have a complete meltdown of social services, but I don't think we will solve the problem either," Brauer said.
Regardless of what happens next week, Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville, thinks lawmakers have a long, hard fight ahead of them. "We're probably in the middle of the book," he said. "I don't think we're anywhere near the last chapter."
Andrew Thomason can be reached at (217) 782-6882 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Eric Naing can be reached at (217) 782-3095 or email@example.com. Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
House, Senate return
The Illinois House is in session at 3 p.m. Monday.
The Illinois Senate is in session at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Follow the action at the General Assembly's Web site, http://www.ilga.gov, and at The Dome - The State Journal-Register's one-stop shop for state government news: http://thedome.sj-r.com.