Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Senate Democrats get a jump
on passing a state budget

By Jamey Dunn 

Illinois Senate Democrats passed a budget plan this evening without the support of Republicans in their chamber.

GOP members complained that Democrats were moving too quickly and should wait until changes to the Medicaid system are addressed. The proposal relies on lawmakers approving a way to cut $2.7 billion from the Medicaid liability for next fiscal year.

 “I don’t think that we want to be in a position of waiting for the House to pass a budget. We want to get the process rolling. We don’t know whether we will get to an agreement [on Medicaid] yet or not, yet. So we are going to move a budget to the House and continue negotiations,” said Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsored two of the three budget bills that passed tonight. The bills are:

“So it’s more important to beat the House than it is to pass a sound budget that’s premised on everything that’s necessary to pass a budget, like what’s going to happen with Medicaid, the central issue in the entire budget? We are in such a rush to beat the House that we would rather do it fast … than do it right?” Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, asked during floor debate. Murphy said that the proposal would not put the state on track for financial stability when the recent income tax increase rolls back in 2015.

Democrats argued that Republicans have not presented a plan of their own, and the massive cuts they say they want would never be politically viable on either side of the aisle. “We think we’re doing this right. I could also suggest, if you don’t like this approach, we’d be happy to entertain a bill from you suggesting how we might do the budget,” Steans said. Democrats say that their budget is responsible because doesn’t spend more than the state will take in next fiscal year, and it would address $1.3 billion in overdue bills. The proposal would dip into money that is usually automatically transferred out of the General Revenue Fund and special funds to pay down the bills, and Steans said the money would not be repaid to those funds.

The legislation that passed tonight does not contain the fund sweeps because Senate Democrats are still considering a list of more than 500 funds as sources. The plan has undergone some changes from the proposal Democrats approved in committee on Monday. That plan called for the closure of Dwight Correctional Center, the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, the Jacksonville Developmental Center and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center. The bills passed tonight would spare the developmental centers.

The Senate raced to keep up with the House last year and passed a budget that would have spent more than the other chamber’s proposal. In the end, the House won out. However, lawmakers did approve some additional spending later in the fiscal year. (For more on last year's chamber vs. chamber budget battle, see the Illinois Issues blog.)

Sen. Dale Righter predicted that the history of last year would repeat itself. “It’s … a chamber squabble for you folks. It’s to beat the House of Representatives. And here’s what’s going to happen: You’re going to go through all this turmoil over here and all this grief,” Righter, a Republican from Mattoon, said. “And what’s going to happen is these budget bills are going to zoom over to the House of Representatives, and they will meet exactly the same demise as your budget did last year.”

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