Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Republicans put conditions
on budget negotiations

By Jamey Dunn

On Monday, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton called on Republicans to help address a looming budget deficit as lawmakers craft the state budget for next fiscal year. Today, Republicans shot back with a list of demands.

Cullerton said at a Chicago news conference earlier this week that Illinois faces a nearly $3 billion shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015. He said several factors are coming together to create the shortfall. The temporary income tax increase will begin to step down in the second half of the fiscal year, taking an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue with it. Expenses such as Medicaid, the state’s annual pension payments and personnel costs are expected to increase. Cullerton asked Republicans to present ideas to address the shortfall.

“We want to work with the Democrats, but they seem to view bipartisanship as a one-way street, and its not,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. “We have offered — we as Republicans — offered numerous solutions that have been disregarded, buried in subcommittee and frankly, at times, even mocked.”

 Republicans say the state’s budget problems happened while Democrats were in power, and now they are being asked to help clean up the mess. They say their suggestions have been ignored in the past, and now they have a number of conditions for working with Democrats on the budget.

The Republicans want:

  • The temporary income tax increase to be allowed to phase out, as is called for under current law. 
  • A proposal to amend the state’s Constitution to allow for a graduated income tax to be taken off the table. 
  • The approval of a workers' compensation reform bill that includes a requirement that employees prove they were hurt on the job. 
  • A prohibition on new programs and the expansion of existing programs in the FY 15 budget. 
  • Attorney General Lisa Madigan to request that the Illinois Supreme Court speed up its ruling on the pension changes that were recently passed into law. 
  • More aggressive implementation of the cost-saving Medicaid reforms approved in 2012. 

Radogno said Republicans plan to “insist that bipartisanship includes their votes on our ideas and not just the other way around.” She said lawmakers must do more than just produce a budget for this year. She says they must address long-term budget issues and make policy changes to improve the state’s economy. “There’s no budget that can succeed unless we fix the underlying economy in this state because we may have a one-year budget document that may take care of the next few months, but then we’re going to be right back in that crisis mode because we’re losing employers and we’re losing families.”

While the two caucuses held dueling news conferences this week, exchanges at a Senate budget hearing remained relatively subdued today. Some Republican members called Cullerton’s math into question, saying that the governor’s own projections do not predict such a large deficit. “Try was we might sometimes, saying a figure doesn’t make a figure factual,” said Mattoon Republican Sen. Dale Righter.

However, Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, said the figure is based on newer information than the governor’s budget office used for its projections. “I do think it’s clear we’re going to have budget challenges.” Steans, who is the chair of one of the Senate’s budgeting committees, said cuts would be necessary but that new revenue should also be on the table.

“I think we’re going to have a real interesting year,” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, a Democrat from East Moline. “We may have disagreement on how we got here, but it behooves us all to try to work toward a solution.”

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