Legislators talk budget impasse in new session
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
After being sworn in to the 100th session of the Illinois General Assembly, some Northwest Side legislators said that they were optimistic that bills filed in the Senate would begin to resolve the budget impasse between Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno have sponsored bills that they say are designed to solve the state’s financial problems.
The bills are part of what the leaders call a "grand bargain" that were filed after the inauguration ceremonies on Jan. 11 and that are expected to be voted on in the Senate as a package.
Provisions in the bills include an increase in the state income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, a temporary property tax freeze, an increase in the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9 on July 1 and annual increases of 50 cents to $11 by 2021, and changes in workers’ compensation laws.
Bills also would allow a casino in Chicago and video gambling at race tracks, impose term limits on General Assembly leaders, place a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, reform the pension system, and appropriate funds for human services and higher education.
"How about we try governing for a bit," Cullerton said in his speech after he was sworn in. "That’s what the people sent us here to do."
Cullerton said that the goal is for the Senate to act in the new session to restore economic stability in Illinois. "This has become nearly as ridiculous as it is frustrating," he said. "People – real people in the real world – are fed up and they blame all of us," he said. "Today we are filing more than a dozen proposals containing the contents of our budget and reform plan.
"The intent is to quickly pass them in this new session. It is my hope that the Illinois House and you, Mr. Governor, will join us."
However, some legislators said that budget issues have been mired in politics for too long and that they don’t know what Madigan or Rauner will do.
State Representative Greg Harris (D-13) said that he is hopeful that there is some movement and that some leaders are continuing to work on a budget solution. Harris is working as Madigan’s representative on the budget.
"We need to be working together to reach a compromise," Harris said. "There are a lot of items being discussed. Nobody will get what they want, that’s a given. That’s part of the process.
"It’s part of the debate. We need to have a public debate and look at the pros and cons of everything, and let’s move something forward to get a budget."
Harris said that at the end of the 99th General Assembly, the House passed legislation that would provide for a property tax freeze. "This has been Governor Rauner’s key demand for a budget solution," he said on his Web site.
Harris said that the House also passed reforms to the workers’ compensation system, which is another one of the governor’s priorities. "All sides are making progress," he said. "We need to solve the crisis that’s been ongoing for 2 years. That’s why we have been elected to public office."
Harris said that in his speech on inauguration day, Madigan proposed a tax on people earning more than $1 million per year, an increase in the earned income tax credit to benefit working families and reducing business income taxes by 50 percent to help small and medium businesses expand and increase jobs.
"Hopefully these proposals will spur movement to resolve the state budget crisis and to address other critical issues such as improving education, help working families who are facing increasing struggles, protecting our most vulnerable neighbors, and boosting our economic and business climate by creating fiscal stability and creating incentives for business growth and investment in Illinois," Harris said.
State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said that he thinks that members of the General Assembly are growing impatient with the state of the state and the political feuding.
"I think we’re tired of waiting for the governor or the speaker," Mulroe said. "There is a sense that the Senate wants to get going on something.
"Our constitution says that the governor is supposed to present to us a balanced budget and the legislature is supposed to give him authority to spend the money. That’s it, and we can’t even do that."
"He’s holding up the process with his ‘Turnaround Agenda,’ but we need a budget now," Mulroe said. Some of those agenda wishes have nothing to do with dollars coming in and dollars coming out."
Mulroe said that the Senate passed legislation limiting the terms of the Senate president and the Senate minority leader to 10 years. "Cullerton sailed it through, but people know who it is directed at," Mulroe said. It is not known what position Madigan would take on limiting his term.
State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) said in a statement that she supports term limits.
"Term limits for Senate leadership is the right thing to do," Martinez said. "No one should be making a career out of being a legislative leader.
"For Illinois to function properly, it’s imperative that we have fresh ideas and new people leading state government. I hope the Illinois House will follow the Senate’s lead and adopt term limits for the speaker of the House and the House minority leader," Martinez said.
Mulroe said that the "grand bargain" that is being presented in the Senate is being done because the budget is the state’s biggest priority. "You can’t hold things up for 13 million people in Illinois," he said. "You are the governor so govern.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Cullerton is frustrated. He wants to do something. I’m positive he wants something done.
"If he is willing to work with the Senate Republicans to get something done, more power to him. Let’s do it and create some sort of stability in the state. If this continues for the next 2 more years and nothing gets done, it will absolutely decimate the state."
State Representative John D’Amico (D-15) said that he is optimistic that a budget deal could be accomplished this year, but he had some concerns about Rauner’s plans.
"I’m always optimistic that we will get together and get a better budget deal passed," D’Amico said. "I’m always hopeful that cooler heads will prevail, but the governor keeps demanding things that are non-budgetary.
"I’m not in favor of the non-budgetary items, and I think it’s unfair to use that as a ransom for a state budget. Anything is possible, but I’m not sure what the governor will do and until you see something in writing and can take a look at it, it’s impossible to tell how you will vote."
State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said that he is cautiously optimistic that the Democrats and the Republicans can agree on a solution to the budget crisis, even though the Senate bills are asking for a lot of unpopular items.
"It would be awful if we wait and nothing gets done in the next 2 years," Martwick said. "I just hope that the future of this state is not based on non-budgetary items. The pain would be profound. The suffering of the people would be catastrophic.
"My feeling is that I have seen in person some Republicans look at some bills and say, ‘That’s a good idea,’ and then they come back after the governor tells them it’s not and they vote no. It happens all the time on bills.
"They keep saying that Madigan won’t compromise, but he has said from the beginning that the budget will be balanced through spending cuts and revenue increases. I’m thinking that Cullerton wants to have something that passes out of the Senate.
"Cullerton and Radogno are working on something, but Rauner is gospel. Cullerton wants to have something to bring it to his people to see whether they like it or not.
"However, there is iron-fist control by the governor. They don’t break rank. They are stuck at the hip with him."
Other Northwest Side lawmakers released statements after being sworn in.
"It has been an honor and privilege to serve the residents of the 40th District, and I look forward to continuing to work for my constituents and help solve the problems facing the state," state Representative Jaime Andrade Jr. (D-40) said. "Without a doubt, my biggest priority is to work toward passing a full budget that ensures (the Chicago Public Schools) receives the funding students deserve and that protects vital services that working families depend upon."
Andrade encouraged the governor and legislators to reconvene bipartisan working groups to negotiate a full budget. The governor’s refusal to restart negotiations for a full budget has led to drastic cuts to higher education and services for working families and the elderly. The cuts have been coupled with an unprecedented increase in the amount of backlog bills owed by the state, which tripled from when Rauner took office to $13.5 billion today, Andrade said.
"By continuing to kick the can down the road with partial budgets, we are doing a great disservice to our communities," Andrade said. "I will continue to fight for a progressive income tax that requires multi-millionaires to pay their fair share and ensures that our schools and vital social services are funded."
State Representative Marty Moylan (D-55) said that the budget impasse is one of the major challenges facing the state. "I’m going to fight this term to make sure we have a state that is fair to working people who want to see their elected officials work on behalf of them, not special interests," Moylan said.
Moylan also called on the governor and legislative leaders to appoint members to bipartisan working groups that have been used in the past to reach budget deals. "With many of our most vulnerable residents at risk of losing services they rely on, it is crucial we restart b-partisan budget negotiations as soon as possible," he said. "I am calling on the governor and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to join me in working toward crafting a responsible budget."