Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What is on the table?

The Senate approved a nonbinding resolution to reject the House’s limited-growth budget approved late last month. It mirrored the move earlier this spring by the House to shoot down the governor’s gross receipt tax proposal.

Thirty-four Senate members voted to reject the House budget; 19 voted “in favor” of it or, at least, against using a resolution to combat the other chamber; and two voted present. (The record only shows 33 “yes” votes, but Sen. Kimberly Lightford did vote “yes,” making the 34th vote.)

Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, called for the resolution, urging his chamber not to consider House Speaker Michael Madigan’s budget. “Overall, SB 1132 as amended by the House does not provide the resources necessary to serve the citizens of Illinois, including students, veterans and all citizens served by a public safety program and agencies.”

GOP budget negotiator Sen. Christine Radogno questioned the sincerity of the Senate Democrats to come to a budget agreement. The Lemont Republican wanted to know why Trotter wasn’t using three empty budget bills that were approved by a Senate committee last week. They’re essentially placeholders so the chamber can drop in budget details later and move it through the legislative process.

“We’re wasting a lot of time on a resolution that’s absolutely meaningless in terms of resolving this [budget] process, ultimately,” she said. “We’re wasting time by being here. We’re wasting a lot of money. We’re continuing with the scam of the leaders’ meetings that are really not producing any results whatsoever, and now we’re trying to enter into this game of bouncing resolutions back and forth between the chambers.”

For others, voting to reject the House budget was taking a stand against cutting programs for children, veterans and the needy. “What would you have us to do? Just lay down for Mike Madigan?” said Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat. “We’re not a rubber stamp for the other chamber. We are the upper chamber. We’re the House of Lords. They’re the House of Commons. We shall not be led by the House of Commons.”

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. also sent a message to the House. “The purpose of this resolution is to send a clear signal that we should be in very serious, serious negotiations,” he said.

The limited-growth budget never made it over to the Senate for a vote because of an electric-rate standoff started by a group of Downstate House Dems. The move was meant to call attention to the need to address the electric-rate hikes before the onset of the summer.

While the House didn’t respond too kindly to the Senate’s comments, Gov. Rod Blagojevich praised the resolution.

Big picture by Bethany: Ten days left before the fiscal year ends and a state shutdown looms, here’s where we stand: The governor and the Senate reject the House budget. The House rejects the governor’s plans. And people involved in electricity rate negotiations still say “substantial progress” is being made and that something is close. In other words, nothing concrete is on the table. And the Senate isn’t back in town until Tuesday, while the House is still scheduled for Thursday and Monday.

UPDATE No progress was made in the afternoon leaders' meeting. House Minority Leader Tom Cross didn't hide his frustration, calling the process "rather embarrassing and a bit disgusting." The only thing discussed in the "show-and-tell meeting" was TIF districts in Chicago with no attempt to relate that issue to the state budget, said House Speaker Michael Madigan. The governor didn't even send his spokespeople out to make comments after the meeting.

Regarding the Senate's symbolic rejection of the House limited-growth budget, Madigan said, “I find it very curious. I note that it did not get 36 votes. It appears to me that certain people are grasping at straws in terms of what they perceive to be a budget debate. And I would say again, only one chamber has passed a budget. That is the House.”

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