A day after a chaotic Illinois House approved a budget plan that critics said was $7 billion out of balance, the Democrat-dominated chamber approved it all over again.
However, the second time may not be the charm when it becomes the Senate’s turn to take up the measure. A leading Senate budget negotiator said the House plan was incomplete.
“It’s not a full budget. It’s not a balanced budget,” Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said Thursday. “I believe we should be getting to a whole solution that provides a balanced budget approach that includes revenue as well as the spending. We clearly need revenue. I think everybody in the dome knows that we to have revenue as well as spending reductions.”
Steans was one of the negotiators, both Democrats and Republicans, who drafted a proposal for a balanced state budget that included about $2.5 billion in spending cuts and $5.4 billion in new revenue.
“I think something along those lines is what’s going to be needed here,” Steans said.
Senate Democrats held a lengthy caucus Thursday to discuss the House budget proposal. They were meeting even as the House was voting a second time to approve it.
Democrats said the revote was taken to correct a mistake made when the budget was first voted on Wednesday night, after which Republicans wanted a verification of the vote to ensure that every representative recorded as voting for the budget was in fact in the chamber. Although Democrats agreed to the request, they abruptly adjourned immediately after the vote Wednesday night without doing the verification. They said the revote Thursday was to grant the Republicans their request from the day before.
The outcome was the same, with Democrats giving the plan enough votes to pass and Republicans voting against it. Republicans said the Democrats’ proposal was an attempt to derail talks by rank-and-file lawmakers to reach some kind of compromise on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s business-friendly “turnaround agenda.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, on Wednesday said Rauner’s people hadn’t been persuasive in convincing negotiators to go along with changes to workers’ compensation, collective bargaining and pension reform that the governor is seeking.
Republican lawmakers said Madigan is incorrect.
“Serious and well-meaning people have been meeting for days and weeks,” said Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin. “There’s progress being made. To throw cold water on the process with a bill of this nature is extraordinarily unfortunate.”
But Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the Democrats’ budget bill provides insurance in the event an overall compromise can’t be reached.
“I don’t know if the governor’s proposals for working groups (on his agenda) will lead to a broad consensus. I’m hopeful they will,” Currie said. “In the meantime, I think the citizens of Illinois need an insurance policy that we will not stumble our way through another year (with no budget).”
Rauner’s office sent word Wednesday night that he would veto the bill if it gets to his desk.
On Thursday, Rauner continued to express optimism that a compromise can be reached to include his reforms as part of a budget agreement.
“From everything I’m being told from those working groups, good progress is being made,” Rauner said.
Despite the House passage of a budget plan Rauner called “massively, massively out of balance,” the governor and four legislative leaders all met Thursday afternoon for the second day in a row.
“After a positive meeting, the Democratic leaders now share our sense of urgency of bringing this impasse to a close,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said afterward. “We are going to ramp up with our working groups. It was a positive sign today.”
Neither Durkin nor Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno would answer questions.
Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left without speaking to the media. Asked about the meeting later, Cullerton said, “It was productive.” He then smiled and walked away.
Also Thursday, yet another school funding reform plan surfaced in the Senate. Sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the plan distributes money to school districts based on 27 criteria. She said the plan is structured to ensure schools with the greatest financial need get the most from state funding.
That’s been the aim of legislation pushed by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, that’s passed the Senate but hasn’t been taken up in the House and is opposed by Republicans who see it as a bailout for the financially struggling Chicago Public Schools.
Lightford’s proposal is pending a vote before the full Senate.