Illinois House Democrats defy governor, push own budget

Amid howls of protest from Republicans, the Democratic-led Illinois House passed a spending plan for next year Wednesday without considering any of the pro-business legislation GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner wants as part of a deal to end an historic budget stalemate.

The Democrats' defiance of the governor's wish for a compromise escalates a dispute that has left the state without a spending plan for 11 months. Republicans yelled and booed after Democrats abruptly stopped debate and called a vote on the budget, passing it 63-53. Seven Democrats voted no.

"What just happened in the House of Representatives is something which I've never witnessed in my many years here, but I would just say it's a very sad and a dark day for Illinois democracy," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

Democrats put the whole budget in a single bill in an attempt to force Rauner's hand. The governor's office has suggested that he would veto the plan if it reaches his desk, which could jeopardize education funding and prevent schools from opening in the fall.

Illinois is the only state in the nation still without an agreed budget for the current fiscal year. The acrimony on display Wednesday signaled the gridlock could extend into a second fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

After meeting Rauner in his office Wednesday, House Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan said he would proceed with his own plan. Madigan said the governor's suggestion to have groups of lawmakers negotiate a budget agreement is going nowhere.

"My advice to the governor today is that he and his agents are not being persuasive in the working groups," Madigan said.

The groups have been discussing possible changes to collective bargaining policies and how injured workers are compensated by employers, among other things. Rauner has said those changes are needed to improve Illinois' economy and that he would support a tax increase to close a $5 billion deficit if he gets some of his demands.

The stalemate has highlighted the bitter rivalry between Rauner, a wealthy former venture capitalist elected on the promise to weaken unions, and Madigan, who has served as speaker for more than 30 years and controls much of the machinations of the Legislature.

Democrats have repeatedly said that Rauner's proposals on unions and workers' compensation would be devastating to the middle class and have shown little interest in debating those issues at the state Capitol.

Illinois has operated without a budget since July after Rauner vetoed the out-of-balance plan Democrats sent him. But they also sent him education funding in a separate bill last year that Rauner signed, ensuring that schools would open. About 90 percent of Illinois' spending has been on autopilot due to court orders requiring payment in critical areas, such as Medicaid insurance for the poor and salaries for state workers.

The Democrats' budget proposal would fund everything except what's already covered under court orders. The state would be spending $13.5 billion from its general fund, which is comprised of taxes. With federal funds and other money included, the total budget would be $47.5 billion.

A huge chunk of the funding would go to public schools, which would receive a total of $11.2 billion. Rauner has repeatedly said school funding should be a top priority to ensure schools open in the fall, and what Democrats are proposing one-ups his suggested funding increase of $55 million.

Democrats want to add $700 million, targeting most of the money for poorer districts.

The governor's office blasted the Democrats' overall budget idea, saying an analysis shows their plan is $7 billion out of balance. A full veto would throw schools into chaos this summer and force some to use reserves to open.

Republican leaders who met with Madigan and Rauner Wednesday were visibly irritated. Democrats have supermajorities in the House and Senate.

"My sense is (Democrats) have absolutely no interest in trying to save the state from going off the deep end," said Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

After lawmakers adjourn on May 31, three-fifths support in each chamber will be needed to pass anything.