Metro-East News

Rauner OKs compromise plan to fix budget hole; local lawmakers’ votes split

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.

Locally, State Sens. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, voted for the budget. State Sens. Bill Haine, D-Alton, and James Clayborne, D-Belleville, voted against the budget.

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 governor is suggesting we cut funding for schools, universities and the streets and road fund,” Haine said. “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.”

McCarter called the budget legitimately-balanced for the first time in 12 years.

“I commend Gov. Rauner for reaching across party lines to come up with an agreement. He showed real leadership,” McCarter said. “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.”

Area state representatives also voted along party lines. Republicans Charlie Meier of Okawville and Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon voted for the budget.

“If we didn’t act on (the) supplemental budget, vital services would have been jeopardized,” Meier said. “Last year’s budget spearheaded by Gov. Quinn was $1.6 billion out of balance which led to today’s action. Without a supplemental budget, funding to pay our prison guards, court reporters, mentally ill and our developmentally disabled would simply run out.”

Kay said the previous shortfall was the result 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,” Kay said. “With the Governor’s commitment to reining in spending, I believe this is the appropriate action to take to fix the problem.”

Democrats Jay Hoffman of Swansea, Eddie Lee Jackson of East St. Louis, Daniel Beiser of Alton, and Jerry Costello II of Smithton voted against the measure.

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.