Legislators review budget vote
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Some Northwest Side legislators said that the "maintenance" budget for next year that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly last week was driven by politics of the November election.
Lawmakers said that the $35.7 billion budget would essentially keep spending flat but that it also borrows $650 million from special state funds that will ultimately need to be paid back. The budget also increases education spending by $118 million, cuts $137 million from community elderly programs, cuts $10 million in grants for after-school programs and cuts $15 million from anti-violence programs.
The budget does not extend the state income tax that was raised in 2011 from 3.75 percent to 5 percent. The current rate will fall back to the previous rate in January if the tax is not extended in the fall.
Governor Pat Quinn supports extending the income tax hike, and lawmakers have said that the issue could be taken up again after the election, when it is easier to get votes from lame-duck legislators.
"Nothing is simple in Springfield, and there is a lot of rhetoric going on," state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said. "The tax increase has been taken off the table, and so now you have to get creative to make sure that education is funded. We are dipping into rainy day funds now, but eventually we will have to pay for it."
"The rhetoric is influencing the budget, and we are preparing to see what the outcome will be of the governor’s race," Mulroe said. "We all know what the end game is."
State Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-20) said that things change in Springfield "by the hour."
"Everything is gearing up for the election," McAuliffe said. "Rauner is up a couple of points in the polls and that’s probably making Quinn nervous a bit, but this will be a referendum on the governor. If he gets re-elected then they will probably find a way to extend the tax increase. If Rauner gets in, who knows what will happen."
McAuliffe said he does not support extending the tax and that he did not vote for the budget.
However, state Representative John D’Amico (D-15) said that the budget was the best that could have been accomplished during the legislative session that ended May 31.
"We increased funding for education, and we made some pension payments, and we have passed a capital bill that will help improve the infrastructure and create jobs," D’Amico said. "I know infrastructure is not sexy, but it is necessary to get those roads fixed."
House Bill 3794, which would authorize an additional $1.1 billion in road and bridge improvements, is awaiting Quinn’s signature. McAuliffe said that he would have some street resurfacing projects in his district this summer.
D’Amico said that he did not support the tax increase in 2011 and did not support extending it this time.
"Politics is always a part of it," D’Amico said. "We tried to get bipartisan support on the previous budget, but it just didn’t work out and the Republicans didn’t want it. I was against (the extension) too, and that’s why we have this flat budget now."
"It’s not just going to be a referendum on the governor but on everyone in the House, including me," D’Amico said. "The governor is supportive of the tax extension, and if people vote for him, they know what they are voting for."
"What you are seeing is an electoral year type of budget in which the main concern is about the results of the governor race," state Senator William Delgado (D-2) said. "That’s what’s shaping this budget, and there is influence on the outcome of the race."
"I think that in the House, Madigan is protecting the campaigns of his next ‘targets,’" Delgado said. "Doing business in this way is not healthy. Madigan has a 30-year-hold on the legislature, and he can pass measures on gay rights issues or pension reform, but he can’t get 60 votes for a tax increase? That’s a manipulation of the democratic process without any regard for the constituents."
Delgado said that the state needs to extend the tax increase because there is no way to cut $4 billion out of the budget. "It was a necessary fix and we need to make it permanent," he said.
Quinn said in a statement that the General Assembly "didn’t get the job done on the budget."
"Over the past several years we have made so much progress to resolve our fiscal challenges, from cutting spending and overhauling our Medicaid program to enacting comprehensive pension reform," he said.
Quinn said he submitted a balanced budget plan that paid down the state’s bills and protected education and public safety.
"Instead, the General Assembly sent me an incomplete budget that does not pay down the bills but instead postpones tough decisions," Quinn said. "I will work to minimize the impact of cuts in vital services while continuing to cut waste and maintaining our hard-won fiscal gains."
Senate President John Cullerton (D-6) said that the maintenance budget allows for funding for key priorities and services and averts doomsday cuts by borrowing and increasing the backlog of bills.
"Admittedly, this budget reverses some of the progress that we have made in recent years," Cullerton said. "Since we passed the income tax increase in 2011, we have paid down $3.6 billion in old bills and fully funded our ballooning pension payments. We have paid off $8 billion in pension debt. We have saved billions with responsible budget cuts and that demonstrated that we can be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars. While a vote on our tax rates has been deferred, rising costs and pressures will force the issue at a later date."