Illinois on Path to Second Year Without Budget
The Illinois General Assembly left the last day of the 2016 spring legislative session, May 31st, without a budget to present to the Governor. The House passed a comprehensive budget that the Governor stated is $7.5 billion more than current revenues (and that he would veto if it came to his desk) and the Senate passed a stand-alone K-12 budget that increased education funding by $900 million without additional revenues. Both houses summarily rejected each other’s budget proposals.
Last week, President John Cullerton proposed a six month bridge budget, to get the State beyond the November elections. Governor Rauner rejected that proposal, but has since made his own stopgap proposal, to fund the first six months of the fiscal year that begins July 1 and to fund (although not anywhere close to the levels sought by the House Democrats, the Senate Democrats, or Chicago Public Schools) K-12 education for the full year. Amongst the sticking points between the Governor and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly is the Governor’s resistance to additional revenue to close the gap between State funding needs and revenue, without corresponding changes in collective bargaining, workers’ compensation, and other areas as well as the parties’ differences over whether Chicago Public Schools should receive additional funding (a “Chicago bailout” or “providing CPS with funding comparable to the rest of the State’s districts,” depending on which party is speaking) to bridge its current funding gap.
The State has been operating without a comprehensive budget since July 1, 2015. While much of State government continues, by court order and piecemeal legislation, both higher education and much of the human services safety net have received no funding for 11 months. Universities have closed early and laid off employees. Many human service providers have reduced services or ceased operating altogether. As evidenced by Governor Rauner’s stopgap proposal, and less well known to the public, many State agencies also lack funding for contracts, leaving the State literally struggling to keep the lights on (i.e. to pay its utility bills), struggling to fund food and medical services for its prisons, mental health centers, and veteran homes, and lacking the postage to collect revenues.
With the passing of May 31st, for any budget agreement to become immediately effective between now and January 1st, it would have to be passed by a supermajority of both houses. Instead of 30 votes in the Senate, you now need 36, and instead of 60 votes in the House, you now need 71. In other words, what was hard already becomes even harder--even with an agreement between the Governor and the Democratic leaders--as you need that many more rank and file members to join hard votes. Likewise, as the November elections get closer and closer, hard votes (whether it is reducing funding, raising taxes, or doing both) become even more difficult, with the fear that any controversial vote will quickly become campaign fodder.
Dates and actions to watch for:
- How does Chicago Public Schools make its pension payment at the end of June and, without additional funding from the State, how does that affect CPS classrooms next year?
- If there is no K-12 education budget, what actions will school districts and parents take, if the first State Aid payment is not made in August?
- Will the Illinois Attorney General go into court to stop unappropriated salary payments to State employees, based on a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling?