spring legislative session came to a close May 31 as scheduled, but many issues
remain unresolved, including – and most-importantly – a complete and
constitutional state budget.
Like 2015, the summer installment of legislative
activity is about to begin in the coming days and weeks.
In the final hours of the
scheduled spring session, the Senate considered a wildly unbalanced and bloated
state budget approved by House Democrats a week earlier.
The House Democrat
proposal was $7.5 billion out of balance and would spend $40 billion. It would
be the largest and most expensive state budget in Illinois history. It also would
have imposed a massive tax hike on every Illinois family.
Ultimately, common sense
prevailed in the Senate, as Senate Bill 2048 received only 17 Senate votes in
support, far less than the 30 required for approval.
Realistic state budget
Despite optimism that a
compromise could be reached on a balanced state budget and economy-boosting,
job-creating structural reforms, Democrat leaders continued to slow-walk the
process, stymying progress and leading the General Assembly to once again leave
Springfield in May without an agreement.
Senate Republicans had offered
realistic budget alternatives to ensure that K-12 schools open on time this
fall and basic government operations remain open. The six-month, fully-funded
bridge budget (Senate Bill 3435) would give the Legislature and the Governor
time to work on a long-term plan to put Illinois back on the road to financial
recovery. That measure is still pending in the Senate.
Senate Bill 3435 would address
immediate priorities and keep basic government services operational. Key
components include: ensuring federal funds coming to Illinois for social
service providers continue without interruption, $600 million for higher
education, $180 million for human service providers not covered by
court-ordered state payments, $450 million for food service, utilities and
medical services at state prisons and mental health facilities, and to pay for
essential services at state-run institutions. The measure would also provide
funding for public construction projects, such as roads, bridges and emergency
repairs at state facilities.
The stop-gap plan also includes
funding to take care of the programs, services and old bills left unfunded and
unpaid by the lack of a Fiscal Year 2016 budget, and not covered by court orders,
consent decrees and the parts of government that receive automatic annual
Republican leadership – education funding
To ensure schools can open in the
fall, Senate Republicans introduced Senate Bill 3434 to provide a full-year
funding for elementary and secondary schools, increasing state funding for
education by $226 million. It is an affordable plan and includes full funding
for General State Aid claims for the first time in seven years. It would also
ensure that no districts receive less funding than a year ago. Other highlights
of the plan include an additional $75 million for Early Childhood Education,
level funding for state mandated programs and additional funding for
Agricultural Education ($1.8 million) and Lowest Performing Schools ($1
However, Senate Democrats refused
to allow Senate Bill 3434 be considered, instead passing their own stand-alone
budget-busting education funding measure on May 31. The Democrat-crafted
measure (House Bill 2990) would have increased education spending by nearly $1
billion, but it proposed to spend money the state simply does not have and
Another unacceptable part of
House Bill 2990 is that most of the new money would be directed to the Chicago
Public Schools as a bailout for its teacher pension system. It also would
create a new, but uncertain “Equity Grant” to calculate financial support for
schools, and whose impact the State Board of Education cannot determine. The
legislation would also establish a new funding formula for schools that has not
been evaluated. Though the measure was pushed through the Senate just prior to
adjournment on May 31, the proposal fell short of passage in the House.
Ready to meet the challenges
After years of truly unbalanced
budgets, Illinois is faced with unprecedented debt and deficits. According to a
recent report from the Illinois Comptroller’s office, the state’s backlog of
more than 48,000 bills – money owed to social service agencies and vendors –
totals more than $7 billion.
The General Assembly has failed
for the second year in a row to approve a state budget by May
Illinois faces many challenges,
yet there are equally as many opportunities out there as well, if we set aside
the gamesmanship and start working together. There are encouraging signs of an
eventual resolution to the impasse. Session days are expected to be scheduled
on a weekly basis and working groups of lawmakers are planning to continue
meeting to resolve the remaining issues.
My colleagues and I will continue
to push for a complete and constitutional state budget, in which spending
matches revenues. We will also insist on essential reforms to rebuild and
revitalize Illinois’ economy before any consideration of new taxes. Growing the
economy and providing opportunities and prosperity and jobs are the best ways
back to fiscal good health.