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Governor signs budget fix, but not everyone likes it

From staff and wire sources

SPRINGFIELD — In an early major test of Illinois’ newly divided government, the Senate passed a compromise plan Thursday to plug a $1.6 billion hole in this year’s budget and avert shutdowns of state programs and services.

New Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the legislation into law hours after the Democratic-led Senate approved it 32-26, with all 20 Republicans voting for it. Two days earlier, the House also approved the bills with full GOP support.

Following weeks of negotiation, Rauner reached the deal with Democratic legislative leaders, even though the majority of Democrats in both chambers voted against the compromise.

The plan authorizes him to transfer $1.3 billion from other purposes, including parks and conservation. The rest comes from a 2.25 percent across-the-board budget cut. It also gives Rauner authority over $97 million to distribute to needy schools and discretion over an additional $90 million in case of unanticipated budget problems.

The $35.7 billion budget lawmakers passed last spring that didn’t allocate enough money for expenses, creating the $1.6 billion gap. Democrats passed the budget last spring hoping that after the November election they would make permanent a temporary income tax increase passed in 2011. But Rauner’s gubernatorial victory scuttled that hope, and the tax increase rolled back on Jan. 1.

A state subsidized child care program needed another $300 million to operate through June. And funds were expected to run out for after-care programs at the Department of Juvenile Justice developmental centers and mental health facilities, among others.

“This is a first step, but by no means a final step,” House Speaker Michael Madigan said in a statement. “There will be much more work and more decisions in the months ahead as legislators and the governor work to craft a responsible budget for the coming fiscal year.

A number of Senate Democrats, who offered some of the most vocal resistance to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s request for authority to move money around in the state budget, said they couldn’t vote for the bill in good conscience. Only 12 of the 39 caucus members voted for the measure.

“I really wanted to be able to vote for this. I wanted to be able to reach across the aisle but we cut essential services,” Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake said. “I just think there were other ways to solve this.”

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton gave his caucus credit for sticking to its guns during negotiations, the result being major cuts spared to schools, hospitals, and local governments.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno called the compromise “a significant step forward as we look to build the 2016 budget.”

Rauner appeared on the chamber floor to shake the hands of senators after the legislation passed.

“By choosing to make difficult decisions on a bipartisan basis, the General Assembly is helping set a new tone for what can be achieved in Springfield,” the governor said in a statement.

Associated Press provided most of the information for this report.

Here is some of the local reaction:

State Sen. William Haine, D-Alton: “The governor is suggesting we cut funding for schools, universities and the streets and road fund. These cuts will eliminate jobs, and cause large construction projects to sit idle while the unemployment rate rises. This is why I cannot vote yes on this.”

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: “Without these funds, vital programs such as childcare assistance and services for the mentally ill would cease and devastate thousands of those most in need. This shortfall is the direct result of years of irresponsible overspending. I am pleased that Governor Rauner was also granted the flexibility to bring balance to any other holes that may arise in the FY15 budget. With the governor’s commitment to reining in spending, I believe this is the appropriate action to take to fix the problem.”

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: “Call the $1.6 billion hole in the state’s current fiscal year budget closed, patched or plugged, but for the first time in 12 years state government has a legitimately-balanced budget. I commend Gov. Rauner for reaching across party lines to come up with an agreement. He showed real leadership. It took a lot longer than he thought it would and ironically those who caused this problem didn’t really want to step up to the table that quickly. However, we have an agreement to fix the current fiscal year budget shortfall. Is it a good plan? I think it’s probably the only plan we could get an agreement on.”

State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Crest Hill: “Tight money demands tough decisions. Working parents need child care. Trials require court reporters. Prison guards deserve paychecks. That’s why I supported this bipartisan budget fix.”

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago: “Without taking on additional debt, this bipartisan solution patches the holes in this year’s budget and relieves a significant source of stress on low-income working families. Now we can move forward into a productive conversation about the feasibility and human impact of the cuts the governor has requested in next year’s budget.”

State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake: “This was a painful ‘No’ vote for me. While I wanted to support a plan that allows working families to know their children are cared for and ensures our justice system is fully functioning, I ultimately couldn’t affirm the way in which we reached that solution: Raiding from schools and shortchanging road funding that will harm jobs.”



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