By Jamey Dunn
The House today approved budget bills for next fiscal year that would spend billions more than the amount of revenue the state would bring in under current law. UPDATE: House Speaker Michael Madigan has filed a motion that will effectively prevent the more than 70 budget bills passed today from automatically going to the Senate. Madigan told the Chicago Tribune that the move was needed in case the House wanted to further amend the bills.
Earlier in the spring session, both chambers voted on a $34.4 billion revenue projection. Now many House Democrats are backing a plan that would require more. Spending was broken down into more than 70 bills. This gave lawmakers the chance to strategically pick and choose what areas of the budget they wanted to vote to support. It also made for more than 9 hours of debate.
Republicans spent much of the time crying foul. They argued that the spending bills are unconstitutional because they were approved without matching revenues. The state’s Constitution calls for a balanced budget. “We are voting today for an unconstitutional budget, plain and simple,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin. “The state of Illinois needs to live within its means, and we must stop this reckless pattern of insane spending.”
Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican, described the process as “a shame, a sham and something I am embarrassed to be a part of.” During the debate for almost every bill, Republicans decried voting for spending that they say would require making the temporary tax increase permanent. The current income tax rates are 5 percent for individuals and 7 percent for corporations. As the law stands, the rates would step down to 3.75 for individuals and 5.25 for corporations half way through Fiscal Year 2015.
At one point during the debate, Durkin used a procedural move to try to force an end to the day’s session and slow down the process, but his motion was voted down. Democrats criticized Republicans for not presenting an alternative budget plan. “Here’s our plan. Stop spending money,” Sandack said in response.
Democrats who supported the legislation argued that lawmakers should move the appropriations bills through the process while the revenue side of the budget is still in the works because the end of session is rapidly approaching. Adjournment is scheduled for May 31. “There’s some discussion going on the revenue side. Obviously that’s not going very well,” said Hoffman Estates Democrat Rep. Fred Crespo, who presented several of the bills on the floor today. “There’s less than a week and a half left is session, and we need to come up with appropriations.”
The Democrats who presented the bills on the floor acknowledged today that the budget would need more revenue to support the plan, but they were careful to focus on their individual bills and not talk about the tax increase on the floor. Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, who chairs the human services budgeting committee, said that lawmakers must make the responsible choice to take care of those in need, such as the elderly and the disabled. He added that the funding levels would also be necessary to comply with state and federal law and several court orders that require certain services be provided.
Some Democrats opposed some or all of the spending. “You’re asking us to spend $4 billion more than what our revenue estimates indicate. You’re asking implicitly and tacitly for a tax increase. So a vote for this budget, is also a vote for a tax increase,” said Marengo Democratic Rep. Jack Franks, who was a vocal opponent of the temporary tax increase when it passed in 2011. “If we’re going to do that tax increase, let’s be honest about it. Let’s vote for it today. Let’s see if they’ve got the votes up for it, and let’s do it. Once we know what the revenues are, then we should be talking about the budget.”
But Franks said he has his doubts about whether an extension of the tax rates could pass. “There’s no consensus here on raising taxes. ... We’re promising imaginary money that does not exist.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Michael Madigan said yesterday that he is lobbying for an extension of current rates. There is also a package of changes to business taxes in the works. So the final revenue plan could be a combination of several things in addition to the income tax. Madigan said yesterday he was open to rolling back the corporate income tax rates as part of a larger “balanced package.”
Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he has been lobbying members of both parties in both chambers for a “responsible budget.” Quinn told reporters at an event in Cicero today: “The month of May is all about getting a responsible budget that invests in the future, invests in the classroom, making sure we have world class education, making sure we have [the] proper amount of money for our health care.” Quinn’s staff said that he was in Springfield meeting with lawmakers before he went to the event. “We’ll get a responsible budget, if we work together and work hard,” Quinn said. “That’s what I’m committed to, morning noon and night, getting a responsible budget that doesn’t go back in time, back to a time where Illinois had all kinds of fiscal problems.”
The plan approved today was largely based on Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal, which calls for an extension of the current income tax rates. The rates are scheduled to begin stepping down in the second half of next fiscal year. The plan would increase spending for K-12 and higher education, as well as human services. The spending includes several line items specifically requested by Quinn, including increased funding to the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) for low-income college students, additional funding for maternal and early childhood health programs, money to turn two shuttered youth centers into special treatment centers for mentally ill and substance addicted adult inmates and raises for home health care workers.
Still, the plan would not fully fund General State Aid to schools. GSA has been prorated for the last three years. The legislation passed today would fund GSA at 90 percent. Some Republicans argued that if there is going to be a tax increase, more of the money should go to education. The line item for transportation would be funded at 83 percent. “We’re spending more money than at any time in history and the question is where is the money? Cause it doggone sure is not in education,” said Rep. Chad Hays, a Catlin Republican. “Where is the money? This process doesn’t add up.”
Lewiston Democratic Rep. William Davis, who is chairman of the House K-12 education budgeting committee, said that K-12 education would be getting a bigger chunk of revenue than other areas of the budget. “Tell me someone in this chamber who doesn’t run on some education platform—that they support education and want to see it fully funded? I think we all agree on that. But I think the reality is that there are always some limitations. We don’t have an unlimited pot of resources that we can use.”
In order to make it to Quinn's desk, the bills would still have to clear the Senate, where Democrats who work on the budgeting process have said they are reluctant to approve spending without the funding to match. Senate President John Cullerton has said that he has the votes to get the tax extension through his chamber, but he wants to wait and see if it can pass in the House first.