Illinois Has No Budget As Spring Legislative Session Comes To An End

Jun 1, 2015

The Illinois General Assembly ended its scheduled spring session Sunday without passing anything from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” – or finalizing a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Republican governor says he’ll continue to negotiate with legislative leaders. He says he wants to pass at least some of his pro-business ideas before he’ll work with Democrats on balancing the budget.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters outside his office in the Illinois Capitol.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Madigan says the House will remain in continuous session throughout the summer. 

Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Loves Park, says he hoped there would have been more compromising. He says having no deal on a budget yet is “disappointing." 

"Republicans and Democrats are supposed to work together, and that is clearly not happening at the end of the regular session," he said, "although we have some days and weeks ahead before the end of the fiscal year ... so hopefully we can compromise and find some middle ground to resolve these issues." 

Stadelman says he's not sure what to expect from the legislature’s summer overtime session. 

Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, says she wanted to both help the state's more vulnerable citizens and improve the business environment.

"I really entered this session after the election with great optimism," she said, "thinking that balanced government would get us back to where we need to be and put the state back on its fiscal course that would benefit all the residents in the state of Illinois." 

She says having an unbalanced budget hurts both the working class and employers. 

Rauner says he’s had “cordial” conversations with House Speaker Michael Madigan — while simultaneously slamming Illinois’s longest-serving Democrat. 

“Speaker Madigan has been the one constant in Illinois politics for more than 30 years,” Rauner said. “We’ve been driven into the ditch." 

Rauner says it's going to get rough, but he's not giving up. 

"Let us be all be crystal clear what's going on here," he said. "This is a battle for the future of Illinois." 

Rauner has $20 million dollars sitting in his campaign fund to wage that fight. It's widely expected a lot of that will soon be used to begin a deluge of ads, though he refused to confirm that.

"I'm not going to speculate about actions on those issues in the future," Rauner said. "We do need to get our message out to the people."

Senate President John Cullerton says that, at a meeting last week, Rauner warned what was coming. The ads would be made to demonize Cullerton and Madigan, his counterpart in the House. 

Sunday night, Rauner instead used his position to blame the two Democrats for a "stunningly disappointing" session. The governor said he would continue to negotiate in good faith with them, but both the Speaker and the President have been vocal that such criticism won't help reach a compromise.

Democrats say the focus should have been on Illinois' immediate financial situation, which is at a pivotal point. Rolling back the state income tax at the start of the year created a huge budget hole. The legislature passed a spending plan that contains cuts -- but minimal ones compared to the billions of dollars the governor proposed. 

Madigan and other Democrats say Illinois needs to come up with new revenue -- like a tax increase -- to cover what is likely to be a $4 billion deficit.

"The spending plan that I support would help and protect middle-class families by supporting local schools, local police, local roads and streets," Madigan said Sunday on WGN Radio's "The Sunday Spin" show.

But Democrats say the governor is holding that plan hostage. Rauner says he will consider a tax hike if he gets his way on his agenda, which started out with a focus on measures like right-to-work zones to weaken unions.

Rauner has moved away from that, for now. Instead, he outlined his demand for five items:

  • Term limits
  • Changing how legislative districts are drawn
  • A freeze on local property taxes
  • Easing business liability in civil lawsuits
  • Changing rules to compensate injured workers. 

Republicans say these are fundamental changes that would draw jobs to Illinois. But so far, the Democrat-controlled legislature has rejected them.

Democrats fought with Republicans last week in a hearing over changing the cap on settlements in civil suits. The measure, a priority for Rauner, failed in committee.

Meanwhile, Rauner continued to blame the state's financial problems on Democratic "special interests." Among other changes the Republican governor wants is to weaken lobbyists in Springfield.

Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from Smithton, says lobbyists are a valuable part of the legislative process.

"We're public officials, okay?” Costello said. “And so people coming here and voicing their opinion is part of what we should do."