SPRINGFIELD — With time running out on lawmakers’ spring session, Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton attempted to jumpstart bipartisan budget action only to have Governor Rauner and Republicans block progress.
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Cullerton’s efforts come as the General Assembly draws ever closer to a May 31 deadline on a budget and Gov. Bruce Rauner risks entering a third straight budget year with no state budget and a mountain of unpaid bills that recently topped $13 billion.
Rauner pulled the plug on budget talks last December even as an emergency deal was about to expire. There has been no state spending plan in place since January 1. Senate leaders stepped in to fill the leadership void and began piecing together a sweeping reform and financial plan intended to end the impasse and stabilize the state’s economy.
Initially, the Senate made great progress.
Nearly half of the deal — including key provisions for reducing government, opening up economic development opportunities and cutting bureaucratic red tape — won approval at the end of February. But with the rest of the deal positioned for success on March 1, word came down that Rauner was pulling nearly all the Republican support off the plan. Without those votes, the plan, which was put together by Republicans and Democrats, couldn’t advance.
While there had been numerous meetings and claims of progress over the ensuing months, nothing had been voted on since the end of February. Cullerton decided last week that the Senate had waited long enough and it was time for action.
“Every day there’s not a budget, the state spends itself another $11 million into debt. March 1 was 71 days ago. It is now May 10. After today, there are 20 days left before our scheduled adjournment on May 31,” the Senate President told the Senate. “I don’t think we can wait any longer. I believe the public’s patience is wearing thin. One way or another, it’s time to vote.”
The Senate did approve a provision to give local government greater flexibility in borrowing, something that should result in lower interest rates on financing and result in local taxpayer savings.
But efforts to vote on and advance reforms to the state benefit system for injured workers and a local property tax freeze stalled because Republicans refused to let the Senate vote on the plans. Republican senators said they needed more time to tinker with the provisions before they would consider voting.
Cullerton said the Senate will keep working and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to realize time is running out, recognize the opportunity for compromise and seize it to help save the state’s economy.
You can watch the Senate President answer reporters’ questions here: