(Springfield, IL) — March 31, 2011. A budgetary battle could be brewing in the state Capitol, but not necessarily between Republicans and Democrats.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) appeared together Wednesday morning to deliver a joint message of fiscal discipline.
Madigan and Cross’ relationship has been cold in the past. It appeared Wednesday, however, that the two have teamed up to start pushing pieces of legislation that could end up being parts of the state’s budget.
The united front in the Illinois House could mean that this year’s budget could pit senators against state representatives, instead of the traditional Democrat vs. Republican.
A recently passed law requires that the Legislature lay out how much money it will have to spend before deciding who gets what. Governor Pat Quinn’s office, the House and the state Senate have all come up with different revenue projections.
Reconciling those, and therefore the different chamber’s budget bills, could be troublesome.
Madigan laid out one possibility Wednesday during the Elementary and Secondary Education Appropriations Committee. When the Senate and the House can’t come to some kind of agreement on a specific bill, five members from each chamber meet and try to hammer out the details in a conference committee.
Because the House’s $33.2 billion revenue projection is more conservative than the Senate’s $34.3 billion projection, Madigan said Senate Republicans might be inclined to side with the House in such a meeting.
“In the Senate, I think the people that want to raise the numbers would be the Democrats, and they would have three appointments on that conference committee, and they ought to be out voted,” Madigan said. “The report coming out of the conference committee should be for the numbers contained in the House bill(s).”
While Madigan is known around Springfield for getting what he wants, it might not be as easy as he explained.
State Sentor Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) the Senate GOP’s budgeteer, said he’s not sure how a conference committee on budget legislation would play out.
His Republican colleagues in the Senate generally lean toward more conservative budget numbers and didn’t agree with the Senate’s adopted $34.3 billion projection, he said, with a caveat.
“We also felt like a number a little bit higher than what the House came up with is reasonable as well,” he said. “I think it’s a little premature for us to start to weigh in, and choose sides, in a conference committee that I don’t know is even going to happen.”
For their part, Senate Democrats say they went with a revenue projection created by professional economists, something Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) was quick to point out in a March 17 news release regarding the Senate’s revenue projections.
Cullerton spokesman John Patterson again raised this point in response to Madigan’s remarks.
“The Senate is engaged in the appropriations process and is using a revenue estimate based on the nonpartisan recommendations of the General Assembly’s economic agency,” Patterson said. “We look forward to working with all the caucuses, as we all share the same goal, a bipartisan, balanced budget.”
The Quinn administration said getting a budget everyone can agree on is a fluid process that takes an ongoing conversation. Kelly Kraft, spokeswoman for Quinn’s Office of Budget and Management, said the governor’s office “put forth its revenue estimate and looks forward to continued discussions with legislators on this important issue.”
Cross and Madigan do have a plan if their numbers are lower than what the state actually brings in during the next fiscal year.
“If there’s money available over and above the number we’ve picked … we could use that extra money to pay bills,” Cross said.
The state has $9 billion to $10 billion in overdue bills.
That plan Cross referred to, House Resolution 158, was adopted Wednesday shortly after the appropriations hearing.
Andrew Thomason, Illinois Statehouse News