Illinois House to resume budget work Monday


The Democratic-dominated legislature will renew its push for a new budget next week, trying to finish ahead of a deadline that would bring Republicans into the mix.

On Monday, a group of Democratic lawmakers is expected to outline a series of spending cuts/budget reforms, although it is unclear if they’ll have widespread support.

Other major proposals for closing a gaping $13 billion budget hole — raising the income tax, borrowing money to make pension payments and making steep spending cuts — haven’t generated enough support to pass the General Assembly.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, directed House members to return to Springfield late Monday afternoon and be prepared to stay through Wednesday. The Senate, meanwhile, won’t be back until Wednesday.

“I would anticipate not spending Memorial Day weekend in session, though it may be necessary depending on actions taken in the House of Representatives,” Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, wrote in a memo sent to senators Thursday.

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said there is no reason for the Senate to come into session earlier since the chamber already passed all of the components of a new budget earlier this month and sent it to the House.

“We need the House to take action,” Phelon said. “There’s no need for us to just sit around collecting a per diem.”

‘Reform the process’

Democrats, who control both the House and Senate, have a big incentive to get things wrapped up quickly, at least before midnight strikes May 31. After that, a new budget will require a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass. Democrats already hold that big a majority in the Senate, but House Democrats are one vote shy. So after May 31, Republicans would have much more leverage.

The state’s fiscal year begins July 1.

In the two weeks since lawmakers suspended their work, Gov. Pat Quinn’s been meeting with groups of Democrats in an attempt to structure a budget compromise that can get enough votes to pass. Some of them are planning a Monday news conference.

“Our philosophy is that we have to reform the process,” said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest.

That means, she said, targeted budget cuts, a thorough review of state contracts and how they are awarded, and giving rank-and-file lawmakers more input into crafting a budget.

“Cuts are going to be some things brought up to move us forward,” Garrett said. “We want to be more specific so certain agencies can plan ahead. … I’m assuming everyone is going to have to deal with some cuts.”

The budget plan passed by the Senate didn’t pinpoint where each dollar would be spent. Instead, money was allocated to agencies in lump sums. A companion bill then gave Quinn great latitude to decide how money should be spent. Some lawmakers, including Democrats, are nervous about giving that much power to Quinn.

More cuts coming?

Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said he expects lawmakers will propose additional cuts, both to human service programs and to education. The Senate plan kept education funding intact as long as the House approved a $1-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax.

Phelon said attempts to cut general state aid or other parts of the education budget “is not something (Senate Democrats) would be supportive of.”

Mautino, a key budget negotiator, said he doesn’t expect Republicans to change their opposition to borrowing for next year’s pension payment. At least one GOP vote is needed in the House for that plan to pass.

Without borrowing, the state will have to find some other way to come up with the $3.8 billion needed to fully fund the pensions. Mautino said pension payments probably will be postponed until the second half of the budget year, although he acknowledged “there may be no money to make the payment in the last part of the year.”

Meantime, the pension systems, already the worst funded in the nation, will lose billions more.

Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said Republicans have been shut out of the budget process.

“I haven’t voted for a budget since (ex-Gov.) Blagojevich was elected,” Poe said. “I’m not going to vote for one just handed to us a day before.”

Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527.