Gov. Bruce Rauner’s attempt last week to spur lawmakers into action left no clear way forward in Illinois’ seemingly never-ending budget saga.
The state remains far from passing a budget for the current year — let alone next year’s — and months of legislative hand-wringing has done nothing to change the predicament the state finds itself in.
In the latest chapter, Rauner urged lawmakers to make a choice now: Pass the business-friendly reforms he wants in exchange for his approval of a full $36 billion budget, which would include raising taxes, or allow the Republican to make $3.5 billion in cuts from the spending plan however he chooses.
But Rauner’s proposition in his annual budget address appeared to do little to move Democrats who control the Legislature.
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Here’s a look at what to expect next in the state’s epic budget battle:
What Rauner wants
As a condition for a budget agreement that includes new revenues, Rauner is asking lawmakers to pass several pieces of legislation he says will help the state’s economy by improving the business climate; save the state money, like expediting the purchase of goods and services; and change the political dynamic, such as instituting term limits.
Rauner told lawmakers they don’t have to give him everything he wants, but he didn’t say what he’s willing to drop.
Among the measures the governor wants is legislation to reduce the cost to businesses when an employee gets injured in the workplace, which he argues will help improve the state economy by attracting companies to the state. He also has pushed a number of measures to curb the influence of unions.
But there’s no guarantee Rauner’s own proposed measures will be given a hearing by House Speaker Michael Madigan and other Democrats who control the schedule. And even if they’re heard, they’re a long way from making it through the legislative process. Before the March 15 primaries, the House is meeting only three times, and the Senate six.
No one is expecting much lawmaking to get done any time soon.
Still spending, but running up a tab
Even without a budget, court orders and other mandated spending on essential services like health care means about 90 percent of state government is still being funded. But that’s plunging Illinois further into debt because the state is spending based on revenue levels from last year, when the individual Illinois income tax rate was at 5 percent, not the current rate of 3.75 percent.
Illinois faces a roughly $5 billion budget deficit this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and its unpaid bill backlog could reach almost $26 billion by 2020 if current revenue and spending policies continue.
Legislative economists will brief lawmakers March 1 on the state’s latest revenue projections, which will influence budget negotiations. For some, the lack of progress has already been disastrous and others are on the verge of disaster. Many social service programs have shut down and Chicago State University has said it will be unable to pay its employees next month because it hasn’t received state support since July 1 when the current year’s budget should’ve taken effect.
To meet, or not to meet
Legislative leaders and Rauner met three times in December in budget summits that were advertised to the media but held behind closed doors. It’s unclear if the meetings did anything to close the chasm of disagreement and Madigan did not attend the last meeting, saying he had a scheduling conflict.
Rauner wanted to meet with legislative leaders again in January, but to date there hasn’t been another gathering, at least not one that’s been advertised.
Madigan said for negotiations to work, “people have to set aside the extreme agendas,” referring to Rauner’s suggested reforms. And given that unions are among Democrats’ biggest political allies, they’re unlikely to bend on that front.
At an event Thursday, Rauner said his administration will “hope for the best, plan for the worst” when considering next year’s budget.
Exactly what that means remains to be seen. No one currently at the state Capitol has ever been involved in an eight month long budget stalemate.