Illinois Democrats OK $3.7B in funding; GOP calls it a stunt

Photo Sources: Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) / Flickr --- WBEZ / Flickr

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Republicans blasted House Democrats for earmarking nearly $3.7 billion for colleges and various human service programs, saying the legislation they passed Thursday is a pre-primary sham because the state still has no budget.

Democrats unveiled their funding proposal late Wednesday evening and described it as a compromise, angering Republicans who said they were not even consulted.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said during a tense debate that his party is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget, which has been overdue since July 1.

"I am waiting for you and your side of the aisle to work with us to try to find a compromise, not shoving a bill down our throat," Durkin said.

The Democrats' funding proposal still needs to pass the Senate, perhaps as soon as next week, before it goes to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is expected to veto it.

During the state's epic budget standoff, colleges have gone without funding, low-income students have lost tuition grants and social service agencies that help the elderly and homeless youth have closed or cut back the help they provide.

"Without a budget the state has slammed the door shut in the faces of all of these needs," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, the Democrats' House leader.

Illinois is also incurring more debt while the impasse continues because court-mandated spending is occurring but at revenue levels from last year, when the individual Illinois income tax rate was at 5 percent, not the current rate of 3.75 percent.

Rauner's budget office sent a letter to House lawmakers Thursday before the vote saying the backlog of bills is now at $7.2 billion. The letter said there is no way to pay for the programs outlined in the Democrats' spending bills without reducing spending in other areas.

The Democrats' funding bills work in two parts. One measure forgives the repayment of $454 million of state funds taken last year from other special funds. Another bill allocates nearly $3.7 billion to a long list of social service programs, everything from homeless youth services to mental health programs and housing for low-income residents. It also budgets $397 million for tuition grants for low-income college students.

The proposals come a day after Democrats failed to override Rauner's veto of a $721 million measure for colleges and tuition grants.

Democrats say Thursday's measures give the state spending authority. Republicans insist it's a false promise ahead of the March 15 primaries.

"I think it's pretty sad that we go through this exercise day in and day out knowing that this just a political sideshow. It's almost comical," Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican from Edwardsville.

The parties continue to battle over issues that have now lasted almost a year: Rauner wants to overhaul term limits, change how legislative districts are drawn and curb union power before signing off on the tax increase many believe is necessary. Democrats contend Rauner needs to drop what they view as extreme demands.

Even some Democrats seemed exasperated by the lack of progress on a state budget. Rep. Jaime Andrade, a Chicago Democrat, predicted that voters may end up punishing lawmakers.

"A lot of incumbents can be beat by Mickey Mouse because the people are just very frustrated out there," he said.


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