Illinois has entered its second month without a state budget, and there’s no indication that summer’s dog days will present any new opportunities for a breakthrough in the squabbling between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly.
Senators nonetheless will have to sweat over a tricky vote when they return to the Capitol on Tuesday — whether to reject a pay increase for themselves and violate the state Constitution, as the House already has done.
Both chambers will hold one-day sessions in what’s become a weekly pilgrimage to Springfield. Lawmakers have approved no yearlong spending plan after they were unable to gather the votes necessary to override a gubernatorial veto of the one they adopted in May. And they continue to rail against Rauner’s demands for pro-business structural reforms even as they appear to be buckling to his pressure to reject the automatic pay raise.
Here are some questions and answers on the status of the impasse:
Q: WHY MEET IF THERE’S NO PROGRESS IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE GOVERNOR?
A: House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, characterizes the weekly appearances as a “continuous session.” If lawmakers didn’t show up periodically, it could be ammunition for Rauner, who rejects the General Assembly’s desire to raise taxes to fill a projected $4 billion deficit. Rauner vetoed that spending plan and let the last fiscal year lapse June 30 without a new plan in place.
The first-year governor doesn’t want to talk about spending shortfalls until he gets legislative endorsement for his pro-business and anti-corruption initiatives, such as curbing payouts for worker injuries, limiting politicians’ terms in office and developing a nonpartisan way to draw political districts. Madigan and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton say those are tangential issues that should come after the budget.
Rauner also may figure that if he doesn’t get his proposed reforms this year, he faces less of a chance in 2016, when much of the Legislature is up for re-election.
Q: ISN’T THERE PRESSURE TO REACH AN AGREEMENT?
A: Not a lot. Two potential pressure points – the August opening of public schools and the first fiscal year paychecks for state workers – dissolved when Rauner signed school spending into law and court orders dictated all 64,500 employees continue should be paid.
Public universities must open this month, and the return of students could shine a new light on the falloff in state aid to colleges. Despite severe cuts in the past decade, they still count on that money to make up, on average, 20 percent of their budgets, according to state figures.
The standoff’s effect on social service agencies and their clients continues to mount. Community Action Agencies joined a growing list of state-supported groups that have shut down or curtailed services on Friday, announcing in a statement the closing of centers statewide and “forcing agencies to turn away thousands of Illinois’ most vulnerable residents.”
The Belleville News-Democrat reported that the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center in East St. Louis halted transportation and meals for the elderly Friday.
Those hurt by service cuts — working mothers needing daycare or graduate students seeing teaching assistant jobs dry up — are part of Democrats’ core constituency, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Growing frustration could force the Democrats “to cry ‘uncle’ for Rauner,” he said.
Q: PAY RAISE?
A: Until last week, lawmakers said little about an automatic 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment to their salaries that was approaching. But Rauner criticized them for not voluntarily offering to sacrifice it, given the state’s problems.
After dismissing the noise about it as a “diversion” for weeks, Madigan led his House majority in voting to kill it, saying it became necessary after the money was budgeted.
The raises still will go through unless the Senate also votes them down. Cullerton says he believes it is “blatantly” unconstitutional to reject them, because of court rulings prohibiting some already-approved salary changes. But he told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview that he would call the vote this week and support ending the pay hikes.
Even if someone should object, Cullerton said, “Nobody’s gonna sue.”