(Springfield, IL) — May 19, 2010. Republican lawmakers in the Springfield area are lamenting that the Illinois General Assembly could pass a version of the Illinois state budget and conclude the legislative session by the end of this month.
With strong majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate, Democratic lawmakers can push through a budget proposal without Republican support up to May 31.
After May 31, all proposals require a higher vote tally for passage. Democrats would have the votes in the Senate chamber, but would need at least one Republican to side with them in the House.
A budget proposal by Senate Democrats already passed in the state Senate a couple of weeks ago and could get consideration in the Illinois House next week.
State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) thinks House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) will bypass Republicans and use the House Democrats’ majority to push a budget proposal through .
“He’s probably thinking, ‘We get in, we get it done, we take a couple of days of criticism rather than dragging this out,'” Bomke said. “I don’t think he gains anything by trying to drag it out and blame it on Republicans.”
The budget proposal passed by the Senate dictates spending amounts for agencies and programs throughout the state. It doesn’t address the structural deficit — state expenses are outpacing state revenues — the state faces.
The state’s annual pension contribution is part of that structural deficit. Lawmakers are considering borrowing money to make this year’s contribution as well as a so-called “pension holiday,” delaying its contribution until next year and paying interest.
The Illinois House voted on a borrowing proposal to make this year’s contribution earlier this month, but the proposal failed by a considerable margin.
State Rep. Rich Brauer (R-Petersburg) said lawmakers are stuck in a difficult situation with Illinois pensions.
“I think it’s very important that (state pensions) get funded at the proper level. And certainly borrowing is one of the worse ways to do it, but I think a pension holiday is even worse than borrowing,” he said.
Governor Pat Quinn has called for a 33-percent hike in the state’s income tax to go towards education and ease the structural deficit, but State Rep. Raymond Poe (R-Springfield) believes that option isn’t being seriously considered.
Lawmakers could also try to cut billions of dollars in state spending to close the gap.
But Poe said Democrats are biding their time until after November’s general election before deciding on longer-term approaches to the state’s fiscal problems.
“I don’t think it’s right that everything’s going to happen after the election. But it seems to me that’s the political side of it, and (that is) what’s going on now. They’re wanting to wait and see what happens,” he said.
In November, voters will elect either incumbent Quinn or State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) as governor.
If Quinn wins, lawmakers say an Illinois tax increase could be imminent, especially when the voting threshold returns to a simple majority later this year.
But Bomke said that the political implications of budget negotiations have to take a backseat to the budget situation itself.
“We cannot continue to kick the can down the road. We need to have a plan. And that plan should not be a budget that takes us for seven or eight months,” he said.
—Kevin Lee, Illinois Statehouse News