Friday, May 31, 2013

Final state budget bills
sent to the governor

By Meredith Colias and Jamey Dunn

The Illinois Senate today approved the last two budget bills that the House sent over. Republicans echoed the same compliant they have had about the other pieces of the budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which was crafted by Democrats from both chambers.

House Bill 214 is general services spending, the General Assembly’s budget and the constitutional officers' budgets. HB 215 is public safety and transportation spending, Illinois Department of Corrections budget, capital construction spending for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' budget. “It’s a responsible budget. We live within our means; we fund key programs; we’re paying down our bills,” said Park Ridge Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski.

Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, called the budget incomplete because it does not contain funds earmarked to pay back wages owed to state workers. “There’s a $140 million hole in this budget out of the gate,” he said.

“We’ll have to come back in the fall for a supplemental” spending bill to cover the back pay,” said Lake Barrington Republican Sen. Dan Duffy. “We should stay down here as long as we have to — all night and all summer if we have to — to come up with a balanced budget to pay down our bills.”

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2555 and SB 2556, which contain the funding for K-12 and higher education, passed the House on the final day of the spring session and now go to the governor. K-12 education funding has been cut severely since 2009, and Homewood Democratic Rep. William Davis said that he was pleased that unexpected tax revenues allowed general state aid to be held flat for the next fiscal year because the state has an obligation to fund education. “We have to put our money where our mouths are,” said Davis, who chairs the House education budgeting committee.

Even though the K-12 education budget for Fiscal Year 2014 includes more than $6.6 billion in funding, school districts will still have to make due with an 89 percent proration for general state aid and a 64 percent proration for transportation. Funding for bilingual education and early childhood education will remain flat. Republicans criticized smaller parts of the more than $1.9 billion higher education budget, such as $600,000 for a Quad Cities manufacturing center at Western Illinois University. “If you are going to vote for this budget, I get it. But I am not going to support a budget that is a sham,” Macomb Republican Rep. Norine Hammond said.

The dismal state of funding for universities has forced many to delay maintenance, institute hiring freezes and look for other ways to supplement their budgets, including raising tuition. Rep. Chad Hays, a Republican from Catlin, said he is concerned that tuition increases are pricing Illinois schools out of range for average people. “Public education is getting elbowed off the table,” Hays said. “We are pricing the average family out of the higher education arena. The state can't be everything to everyone. We have to figure out where our priorities are.”


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