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Rauner seeks unity as special session convenes on budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling on state lawmakers to approve his preferred budget plan during a 10-day special session that begins at noon Wednesday, but early reaction has the entreaty falling on partisan ears.

rauner bruceIn a public address Tuesday night, Rauner said he would sign into law the plan introduced by House and Senate Republicans just last week that would require more than $5 billion in tax increases to pay for spending capped at $36 billion.

“Last week, we reviewed a compromise budget plan that I can sign – that we can all support,” Rauner said. “It moves us to middle ground on key issues. It is truly balanced. It funds schools, higher education, and human services. It provides a real path to property tax reduction.”

Rauner also said the Republican package contains the kind of spending cuts and reforms he wanted.

“The plan also stands tall for fundamentals. Spending reductions. Limits on expenses. Debt reduction. And term limits on legislative leaders and statewide officeholders, including the governor,” he said. “If we can agree to pass it, this plan will send a message across our state and around the nation that we are serious about making Illinois a more attractive destination for investment, new businesses, and new jobs.”

Getting the Republican measure passed through the Democrat-controlled General Assembly will be near impossible, given Democrats’ response. To pass a measure during the special session, a two-thirds majority is required. Democrats have comfortable majorities in both chambers.

State Rep. Greg Harris, in the officials Democratic response to Rauner’s address, called the impasse “Rauner’s budget crisis.”

“Democrats are returning to Springfield in hopes that the governor is finally ready to compromise on a budget,” Harris said, indicating his party wasn’t going to vote to approve the Republican plan as is. Harris also criticized Rauner for calling for unity on a budget deal at the same time he’s funding campaign ads targeting House Democrats.

House Speaker Michael Madigan also has moved to block Rauner’s initiatives at most every turn. And Senate President John Cullerton has said his chamber already did its job when it passed spending and tax increase packages last month with no Republican support.

The House adjourned without calling any of the Senate’s budget bills to the floor for a vote. Cullerton said it’s up to the House to take up the Senate’s already-approved legislation.

The Republican package revealed last week includes many elements of the Senate Democrats’ plan but with some changes. For example, the Senate Democrat plan would permanently raise the state income tax by 32 percent, from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. Under the new GOP plan, the increase would expire after four years. The four-year expiration date would coincide with a four-year property tax freeze that also is in the GOP plan. The income tax hike also would not be retroactive to Jan. 1, as the Democrat plan is, but would go into effect beginning July 1.

A family with annual income of $60,000 would pay the state an additional $720 a year under the GOP income tax hike proposal, with their tax bills spiking from $2,250 to $2,970.

The property tax freeze includes an exemption on local governments with existing debt service payments as requested by Senate Democrats, but also would allow residents to lower or increase their taxes through voter referendum. Both plans also include an expansion of the state’s sales tax to certain services, and an increase in Illinois’ corporate tax on businesses.

The GOP’s new proposal includes a hard spending cap of $36 billion over the next four years. The spending plan passed by Senate Democrats after bipartisan grand bargain negotiations broke down last month looked to spend $37.3 billion in fiscal year 2018.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, opposes the tax increases contained in both the Senate Democrats and the GOP plans.

“I think Illinoisans are actually ready for an austerity budget or what I would call a budget that spends only what we’re going to to take in,” Ives said. “I want a budget too. I only want to spend what we are projected to take in.”

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, issued a statement in reaction to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for unity.

“It’s as if Gov. Rip Van Winkle has awakened from a two-and-a-half-year nap to find the state he was supposed to manage is teetering on the brink of fiscal collapse,” said Manar, chairman of a key Senate budget committee.

“While I welcome Gov. Rauner’s input into how we can seal a state budget deal, I will remind him that he and Republican lawmakers are three weeks late in sauntering to the table. Luckily, they will find his balanced budget, with his requested reforms, awaiting approval in the House that already passed in the Senate.”

State Sen. James F. Clayborne, D-Belleville, issued a similar statement.

“The Senate passed a balanced budget in May with reforms requested by Gov. Rauner. Instead of supporting that plan, he pulled Republican votes off of it and allowed it to sit in the House until the regular session ended. The state has gone 720 days without a budget, and our backlog of unpaid bills has risen to $15 billion. I think Gov. Rauner’s call for unity is a little late.”

Some information for this report was provided by the Illinois News Network.


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