CHICAGO May 15 Democratic lawmakers pushed
dozens of fiscal 2015 appropriations bills through the Illinois
House of Representatives on Thursday over protests largely from
Republicans that the money does not exist to pay for higher
The bills for the budget that takes effect July 1 were based
on Governor Pat Quinn's preferred spending plan that calls for
making permanent higher income tax rates that were put in place
in 2011 and are scheduled to partially expire on Jan. 1. But
instead of voting first on the taxes, Democratic House Speaker
Michael Madigan decided to start with appropriations.
"Our purpose in advancing the budget first is to set the bar
against which we will work to convince people to vote for the
revenue," Madigan told reporters on Wednesday.
At the beginning of Thursday's marathon budget session,
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said that the budget process
was taking the wrong turn.
"We are voting today for an unconstitutional budget, plain
and simple," he said.
Republican lawmakers complained that Democrats ignored the
chamber's agreed-upon $34.5 billion general fund revenue target
and instead passed $37.35 billion in spending that requires
revenue from the higher income tax rates.
Christopher Mooney, director of the Illinois Institute of
Government & Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said
Illinois lawmakers face a tough choice of voting for higher
taxes going into November's general election or enacting a
budget with significant spending cuts.
As for the legality of the House's action so far on the
budget, Mooney said the budget is not officially passed until
both chambers approve the same spending and revenue plan.
The bills now head to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where
Senate President John Cullerton is confident he has the
necessary votes to make the income tax rates permanent,
according to his spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon.
"We have a number of members that are more interested in the
traditional approach to constructing budgets," she said. "So
they are hopeful that the house will send the revenue bills to
support the budget shortly."
Meanwhile, Illinois, which is sinking under a $100 billion
unfunded public pension liability, will have to delay
implementation of controversial pension reforms until a state
judge determines if the law, passed in December, is
constitutional. Those reforms aim to save the state about $145
million over 30 years.
On Thursday, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and Fitch
Ratings said that Wednesday's ruling by a Sangamon County
Circuit Court judge, stopping the law from taking effect on June
1, will not affect Illinois' credit ratings, which are the
lowest among the states.
Also on Thursday, the Illinois Attorney General's office
filed responses to lawsuits brought by unions, retiree groups
and others, contending the law is a permissible exercise of the
state's sovereign powers in light of the magnitude of the
pension funding problem.
(Reporting By Karen Pierog)