Gov. Rauner vetoes $3.9B in spending for colleges, human services

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday nixed a Democratic plan to provide about $3.9 billion for higher education, mental health treatment, and other programs, writing in a long-expected veto message that the state needs a "real solution" to its budget stalemate, not "a check written from an over-drawn bank account."

The Republican said the bill would spend more than $3 billion of money the state doesn't have, continuing a years-long practice of overspending that has led to Illinois' multibillion-dollar bill backlog.

"Students, universities, community colleges, social service agencies, and our most vulnerable residents need real solutions and real funding, which Senate Bill 2046 does not provide," Rauner wrote in a letter to lawmakers. "The only way to ensure that social services are fully funded is to pass a balanced budget, where spending is in line with revenues."

Democrats, who approved the measure despite Rauner's veto threat, argued it was necessary to keep colleges and universities and social service agencies operating during a budget stalemate that's lasted almost a year and is likely to drag on even longer. Without state money, colleges across the state have been laying off employees and cutting programs. Some social service agencies have closed their doors.

John Patterson, spokesman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, said it was "disappointing" Rauner vetoed the entire bill, which also provided money for grants to help college students pay tuition, breast cancer screenings, autism programs and services to help the homeless.

He said the veto makes it even more urgent that Rauner sign a separate emergency funding bill. It provide almost $700 million that's already available in a special fund for human services. It passed with bipartisan support last month.

"Despite today's veto, the Senate President remains optimistic that the governor will do the right thing and sign the balanced, bipartisan emergency budget for human service businesses," Patterson said. "We would encourage him to do so quickly. These businesses, their employees, clients and families have waited long enough."

Democrats also could try to override Rauner's veto, but they didn't have the "yes" votes needed to do so in the House when the bill passed, so they'd have to persuade some legislators to change their vote.

Rauner and Democrats who run the Legislature have been deadlocked for nearly a year over a state budget for the fiscal year that ends this month, and lawmakers adjourned their spring session last month without approving a plan for the July 1 fiscal year.

Rauner has been pushing for legislation he says would make Illinois more business-friendly, such as restricting labor unions' collective bargaining power, before he will sign off on a tax increase to close a more than $5 billion budget deficit.

Democrats have refused, saying his plans will hurt working families and Illinois' most vulnerable residents.