Illinois Lawmakers Override Governor, Pass Budget For 1st Time In 2 Years

Jul 6, 2017
Originally published on July 7, 2017 11:41 am

Lawmakers in Illinois have enacted a budget for the first time in more than two years, overriding a veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner and overcoming a last-minute delay at the Capitol.

The crucial override vote was delayed after authorities received a report of possible hazardous materials, prompting an investigation, The Associated Press reports. "A woman allegedly threw a powdery substance in Rauner's office," the wire service writes, citing the Springfield fire chief.

Rauner was not present and no injuries were reported, but the early afternoon vote was put off as emergency workers investigated the material. The building was reopened by 3:30 p.m.

The budget negotiated by the Democrat-controlled Legislature is the first one passed in Illinois since 2015. Rauner, a Republican, had been firmly opposed to the deal and particularly critical of the income tax hike it included. He vetoed the package of bills on Tuesday.

But enough Republican legislators supported the deal that Democrats were confident they could pass an override. The vote was 71-42.

The state's long budget crisis began when Rauner took office and vowed, among other things, to take on the state's influential public-sector unions. The AP reports that the governor wanted a budget that would freeze property taxes, change workers' compensation programs and cut the cost of state employee pensions. He was also opposed to any permanent tax increase.

But the Democrats who control the Legislature didn't advance his proposals. The governor didn't blink, and two years passed without a budget.

Facing the possibility of a "junk" bond rating and eyeing some $15 billion in unpaid bills, state lawmakers decided to work out a deal and pass it over the governor's objections.

Brian Mackey of NPR Illinois reports that it took "a series of threats" to get lawmakers to the table — including not just the risk of a blow to the state's credit rating, but also the possibility of universities losing their accreditation.

"In the Illinois House, nearly one in three Republicans broke with their governor, supporting an income tax increase," Mackey says.

The Legislature took two weeks in continuous session to negotiate the deal, Mackey says. When Rauner vetoed it, the state Senate overrode him in less than an hour.

It took longer in the state House, where legislators had left town and needed to be called back for a vote.

What has the lengthy budget stalemate meant for Illinois residents? Last month, Mackey described it as "a sort of stealth government shutdown," one that was invisible to most residents but painful for nonprofits providing services:

"Most of the state government is still largely functioning through a series of court orders. ...

"There are hundreds of programs [that] haven't been paid — for homeless teens, AIDS patients and victims of domestic violence. But this aspect of the state budget crisis is happening largely out of public view.

"In fact, almost two-thirds of Illinoisans say they have not been affected by the stalemate, according to a poll earlier this year.

" 'I figure they'll get it together sometime,' said George Cowper, a retiree who lives in Springfield and says he's been unaffected by the standoff.

"The lack of public pressure has made it easier for each side to stay in its corner."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

For the first time in two years, the state of Illinois has a budget. Late today, the Illinois House of Representatives overrode the governor's veto of the spending plan that enacts $5 billion in tax increases. We're going to talk now to Brian Mackey. He's the statehouse reporter of Illinois Public Radio. And Brian, why did it take two years for the state to pass a budget?

BRIAN MACKEY, BYLINE: Well there - there's really two things that happened about two years ago. We had a big tax cut that took effect here, and we had a new Republican governor who came into office. He had campaigned on big changes, shaking up Springfield. He had a very long list of conservative policies. One of the big ones was weakening public sector labor unions. He also had a lot of things he wanted to do to - he says would have helped improve the business climate.

We've seen these policy changes in some of our neighboring states - Indiana, Wisconsin. But unlike those states where Republican governors have had more success getting those policies through, the Illinois Democrats had supermajorities in the Illinois Legislature. You know, the governor says he wasn't interested in really negotiating on the budget until he got his agenda through, and that's basically where we've been for two years.

MCEVERS: If Illinois hasn't had a budget for these two years, how has the state been able to function?

MACKEY: Yeah, you know, we really haven't had a shutdown like you see in Washington D.C. or even this week - right? - New Jersey. There were those stories about the beaches that were shut down.

MCEVERS: Right.

MACKEY: Here, nobody would have really noticed, or I should say most people in Illinois didn't really notice. There was a court order that went into effect, so state employees have stayed on the job. They've continued to get paid. You can still get your driver's license. State parks are still open. But there are a couple of sectors that were really hard hit. Higher education took a big whack from this. The social safety net has been hard hit. So there are some social safety net providers, these - they take care of elderly people. They take care of people with disabilities. Some of them have not been paid all year. There was a stop gap about a year ago that got some of them, you know, sort of kept them going. But you know, basically the state has been held together with bubble gum and scotch tape.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) The governor, you know, had vetoed the original budget. And now that the legislature has overridden that veto, does this mean it's over; Illinois' budget problems are solved?

MACKEY: Not by a long shot.

MCEVERS: OK.

MACKEY: So we still have - built up during these last two years, we have this $15 billion backlog of unpaid bills because we've been doing all this spending even though we didn't have a budget. That's not the same thing as not spending money - right? So we've been spending basically out of control. And I mentioned that tax cut that had taken effect. So we were spending as though we had all this money coming in that we no longer had. And on top of that, we still have the largest unfunded government employee pension liability in the country. It's about $130 billion. And finally, we had this threat of going to junk bond status. There were - but it's not even clear that this will be enough to hold that off.

MCEVERS: Brian Mackey of Illinois Public Radio, thank you very much.

MACKEY: You're welcome.

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