Democrats warn Illinois could go broke without state budget

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois will run out of money to operate in a matter of months if lawmakers can't agree on a state budget, top Democrats warned Thursday, but they reiterated they won't bow to Gov. Bruce Rauner's demands to weaken public-worker unions for a deal.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie and state Sen. Kwame Raoul said the Republican governor should drop his push to let local governments opt out of collective bargaining, a move they say would lead to lower wages and a less-qualified workforce.

Currie said Rauner should instead be worrying about the state money "going out the door at a very fast clip." Both parties estimate Illinois is on track to spend about $5 billion more than it's taking in because of court orders and state law requiring some payments.

"He needs to get serious about adopting a budget that doesn't mean the state goes totally broke come February or March," the Chicago Democrat said following an unrelated stop in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, where Rauner also spoke Thursday.

Rauner has been stepping up his anti-union push this week, arguing that Democrats have "repeatedly" taken votes against collective bargaining and issuing a news release that listed specific bills and Democratic lawmakers who supported them.

He called their firm stance against doing so now "political manipulation" because Democrats don't want to anger labor unions — some of their biggest backers — heading into the 2016 elections.

Rauner also argues that giving governments a choice of whether to bargain over wages, benefits and other issues will ultimately help the middle class by lowering taxes and sparking a healthier economy.

"The status quo in Illinois ... is not helping our middle class," he said.

Illinois is in its fourth month without a state budget. Democrats want Rauner to agree to a tax increase to help balance the budget, but the governor says he won't do so until the Legislature approves some of his priorities.

Other items on his agenda include freezing property taxes and imposing term limits on lawmakers. But he said Thursday collective bargaining is "one of the most critical things we need to change."

Currie compared him to the Wisconsin governor, whose move to curb bargaining rights drew huge protests a few years ago.

"He's 'Scott Walker light' is what I would call him," she said.