Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bipartisan budget efforts dissolve in the House

By Jamey Dunn

Republicans pulled their support from House budget bills today after pension negotiations fell apart, but it appears that House Republican leadership will get another shot at passing pension reform Thursday morning.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross said Republicans made it clear that their bipartisan efforts on the budget were contingent on several things, including pension reform.

“We’ve attempted to work with the other side of the aisle on the budget process because of the problems we have as a state, and one of the things we talked about with our budget mess is that it’s a puzzle, and pieces need to fit together to show the road map out of here. And one of those pieces is the need to do pension reform,” Cross said on the House floor. “The condition, so to speak, or part of the puzzle was — we said to [House Speaker Michael Madigan] and all of you — is that we’ve got to get Medicaid done, we’ve got to do [reductions to] retiree health care [costs] and we’ve got to get pensions done.”

Cross said that once it became clear that Democrats would not back off a portion of the reform that would shift pension costs to schools, community colleges and universities, Republicans pulled back from budget negotiations. Republicans say the measure, which would shift the responsibility of paying for pensions to schools gradually over years, would result in spikes in local property taxes as schools struggled to cover the cost.

“It made it very difficult for us to continue down the road of working on the budget,” Cross said.

With Republicans refusing to support the budget, Democrats took license to make some changes from bills that had been negotiated by House budget committees. And as those bills came up for floor votes, Republicans did all they could to object to and stall the process. They filed several motions trying to keep bills from coming up for a vote and even tried to adjourn the legislative session at one point. None of their efforts at obstruction worked, and after more than three hours of debate, the House budget passed with almost no Republican support. Some Republicans did vote in favor of Senate Bill 2474, which would fund corrections facilities that Gov. Pat Quinn has targeted for closure.

“The adjustments today occurred because there was an interest on the part of both Democrats and Republicans. Mr. Cross and I worked through to provide an appropriation for all of the facilities where the governor is proposing to lose the facilities,” Madigan said. Quinn proposed closing state institutions throughout Illinois, including prisons, youth detention centers, centers for the developmentally disabled and a mental health center. Madigan emphasized that Quinn could still opt to close the facilities, even though there is money in the budget to keep them open.

Madigan said that the funds to keep the facilities open came from money that will be left over from the current fiscal year. Rep. Frank Mautino, a Democrat from Spring Valley, said money left over from Quinn’s budget vetoes during the current fiscal year was used to pay for transfers that automatically come out of the General Revenue Fund. He said that freed up $88 million to keep the facilities open.

Mautino gave credit to Republicans for negotiating the budget that passed this evening, even though few voted in supported of any part of it.

“In a really bad time, bad numbers, it’s amazing what just happened. Even though the roll calls don’t show it that way,” he said.

But Republicans gnashed their teeth over other spending that Democrats added to the negotiated budget bills. “You can’t control yourselves. You need to spend. You have an appetite you can’t control,” Cross said to Democrats.

Under the version of the budget the House was working off of before today, general state aid to schools would have been cut by $211 million. The budget that passed tonight put back about $50 million of that cut. Madigan said that money would come from savings the state created from a recent refinancing of some of its debts.

Madigan said the budget the House passed would still come in at $4.4 million under the $33.719 billion spending cap the House set for itself.

Republicans were also unhappy about some changes made to the human services budget. Funding for transportation for mental health patients was taken out, and instead, more money went to the Department of Children and Family Services. Money for drug addiction prevention and youth in transition programs also fell under the Democratic budget ax.

“It was a good budget before you started whacking away at it,” said Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Republican from Des Plaines. “Now you’ve cut things that everyone at the table agreed to, Democrat and Republican.”

Republicans were especially outraged at the zeroing out of money for a juvenile diabetes research program. Members of House Republican leadership, including Cross, have children with the disease. Republicans called the changes “punitive.”

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the chair of the House Human Services Committee, said research was cut in many areas to direct more money to services. “We have systematically removed all funding for research.”

Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat, said: “These are gut wrenching decisions that we make.”

After the budget passed, Madigan announced that he would transfer sponsorship of the House pension reform legislation, SB 1673, to Cross and let him take a shot at running the bill without the cost shift provisions.

“I think that there ought to be a shift in responsibility in the normal cost so that going forward ... the people making the spending decisions will be called upon to pay the bills. Today it’s very simple. Spending decisions are made. The bill is sent down to the Teachers Retirement System. The state pays the bill. I think that ought to change,” Madigan said. However, he said that Quinn told him this morning that the cost shift should be pulled from the bill.

“I disagree with the governor,” Madigan said. “But he is the governor. This is his request.”

Quinn has voiced support for the shift multiple times, and it was included in his own pension reform proposal. However, a spokeswoman for the governor said that it became clear the issue was sending reform into a deadlock. “The governor has kept his eye on the prize here, and that’s the achieving the big [pension] savings … and putting Illinois on the path to fiscal stability,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.

The bill, with amendments from Cross that would strip out the cost shift, is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow morning in a House pension committee.

“Leader Cross is looking forward to presenting the amendments in committee, and he’s looking forward to passing it through the House,” said his spokeswoman, Sara Wojcicki Jimenez. She said Cross did not know the move was coming until Madigan announced it on the House floor.

No comments: