Friday, May 07, 2010

Budget plans emerge in each chamber

By Jamey Dunn

On the night before the self-imposed adjournment date, each chamber of the General Assembly unveiled its own budget bill. The Senate passed its legislation and sent it to the House, but the House did not take final action on its own spending plan.

Both the Senate and the House spending bills hinge upon an “emergency budget act” passing in the House. That bill, Senate Bill 3660, would:

  • Suspend the $3.7 billion annual pension payment until January 31, 2011.
  • Extend the time the state has to pay any overdue FY2010 bills from August 31, 2010, to December 31, 2010.
  • Require lawmakers, constitutional officers and executive agency directors to take 12 furlough days.
  • Create an independent state agency called the Railsplitter Tobacco Authority. The state would transfer its future payments from a national tobacco settlement to the agency, which would issue $1.7 billion in bonding with the settlement money pledged to pay off the borrowing.
  • Allow the governor to borrow from special funds for the General Revenue Fund and Common School Fund. That money would have to be put back in the special funds a year after it was borrowed.
The Senate spending bill, House Bill 859, which passed early this morning, would cut 5 percent from agency operating budgets, the bulk of which likely would come from the furloughs. The plan would give Gov. Pat Quinn lump-sum appropriations to spend as he sees fit. It would then be up to him to make difficult cuts, which would total about $2 billion. The House plan, SB 1211, is similar but has yet to be called for a vote.

One of the differences is that the Senate bill relies on the House to pass a cigarette tax hike. A $1-dollar-a-pack increase barely passed in the Senate last year and has so far lacked the needed support in the House.

The Senate spending bill became the centerpiece for a rhetorical debate because it would appropriate the spending for capital construction projects that passed last session again. Democrats said they were trying to point out that Republicans supported big-ticket items while calling for budget cuts. Senate President John Cullerton said Senate Republicans were asked to vote again on their capital projects to highlight their “priorities.”

Senate Republicans accused the Democrats of playing games with the budget and going back on hard-fought negotiations that had produced the first capital bill in a decade. Regarding the overall budget bill, Republicans said Democrats were forcing members from both parties to vote on a more than 2,000-page bill that they hadn't had time to read. They called on Democrats to slow down the process to make it more transparent, since they have until the end of the month to pass the budget. But the Democrats, who control the Senate, called the budget bill for a vote, anyway, and it passed, 31-26

Both chambers are scheduled to be in session Friday.

"We have other plans that we have to sift through to make it work," said Chicago Democrat Sen. Donne Trotter, the sponsor of the HB 859, "There's still a lot of heavy lifting to do."

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