From Illinois Business Journal news services
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner today vetoed 19 budget bills that he said combine to create a deficit of nearly $4 billion, noting that Illinois has a constitutional obligation to balance its budget.
“Today, I veto House Bill 4146 from the 99th General Assembly in order to protect Illinois taxpayers from an unbalanced and therefore unconstitutional budget,” he said in a veto message.
“The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate have admitted that the General Assembly’s budget is unbalanced. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget concurs, calculating that this budget is nearly $4 billion out of balance.”
The veto message reads:
“For too long, the State of Illinois has made spending promises that exceed available revenues, relied on accounting gimmicks to make budgets appear balanced, used borrowing and cost deferral strategies to push costs into the future, and delayed payments to vendors.
“This has generated significant backlogs of unpaid bills and a crushing debt burden of well over $100 billion. Because of past fiscal mismanagement, Illinois is experiencing the worst fiscal crisis in America, highlighted by Illinois being assigned the worst credit rating of any state.
“The State of Illinois will be forced to pay more than $6 billion in debt payments in Fiscal Year 2016 due to years of fiscal neglect and overspending. A balanced budget is the only way to responsibly protect taxpayers and put the State on a path to once again using its resources for important public services rather than interest and debt service.
“A balanced budget is not just good practice, it is a constitutional requirement: ‘Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.’ Ill. Const. art. VIII, sec. 2(b).
“Although the General Assembly has chosen to disregard its constitutional obligation, as Governor I cannot approve a budget that violates this fundamental principle.
“We must be partners in enacting a balanced budget that meets critical public needs within the resources available. The surest way to do that is by enacting structural reforms inside government and economic reforms that stimulate our economy and bring new jobs to Illinois.
“Therefore, pursuant to Section 9(b) of Article IV of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, I hereby return House Bill 4146, entitled “AN ACT making appropriations”, with the foregoing objections, vetoed in its entirety.”
Only one day earlier, the governor signed legislation to increase state funding for education, ensuring schools remain open even if a dispute between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature leads to a partial government shutdown.
The bill Democrats in the General Assembly passed last month provides $269 million more for early childhood, elementary and secondary education in the fiscal year that begins July 1 than schools received this year.
Rauner had proposed an increase of $344 million, though his spending plan also called for much larger cuts to social services and programs such as Medicaid health coverage for the poor than the budget bills Democrats sent to his desk.
The governor said he signed the school-funding measure because education is ”the most important thing we do as a community.”
”I refuse to allow (Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan) and the legislators he controls to hold our schools hostage as part of their plan to protect the political class and force a tax hike on the middle class without real reform,” Rauner said in an emailed statement.
Rauner wants Democrats to approve some of his legislative agenda — including measures to freeze property taxes and allow local governments to opt out of collective bargaining with public-employee unions — before he’ll consider new revenue Democrats want to close the budget gap. Madigan and other Democrats have said the governor’s priorities would hurt the middle class and the state’s most vulnerable residents.
If Rauner and the General Assembly are unable to agree on a full budget deal by July 1, payments to social service agencies, state vendors and Medicaid providers will cease. Leaders of several Chicago-area agencies said Wednesday that could force them to cut off services such as cancer screening for poor people and assistance for disabled people.
School districts had feared that if the impasse extended into early August they wouldn’t receive the state funding many rely on to open their doors and pay teachers. That possibility carried big political risk for Rauner and Democrats, who already have been pointing fingers over who should shoulder the blame in the event of a protracted fight.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Wednesday that the speaker’s office is reviewing Rauner’s action. He also criticized the reference to Madigan in Rauner’s statement as ”just more extreme language.” Madigan has said the comments from Rauner and his press office haven’t helped negotiations.
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, called the governor’s signature ”a good sign.”
”It shows that he may be ready to lean into governing by prioritizing the issues that matter to families across the state,” she said.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol Tuesday, though there’s no indication that an agreement on the full state budget is near.
Madigan said the House is inviting Rauner administration officials and social service providers to testify at a Tuesday hearing on the impact of what the Chicago Democrat is calling ”Rauner’s shutdown.” The governor insists blame for any shutdown will lie with Democrats who refuse to change the way the state is run.