After a tense final week of May, the ball is squarely in the Legislative Democrats’ court, with few signs of compromise emerging. Instead, Legislative Democrats continued full-steam ahead with partisan battle tactics: Next Tuesday, the Senate will convene in a rare “Committee of the Whole” meeting of the full body to discuss freezing property taxes in Illinois. Late last week, Legislative Democrats killed a Republican compromise proposal to freeze property taxes on a party-line vote in committee.
The difference between the two parties was in clear contrast this week, as Gov. Rauner and Senate Democrats pushed forward in two opposite directions in response to the looming $6 billion budget deficit.
Rauner announced a total of $400 million in spending cuts, in anticipation of a lack of agreement by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. The cuts include:
Grounding the state’s airplane passenger service
Closing five state museums to visitors
Suspending the State Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (SLIHEAP)
Identifying one or two juvenile correctional facilities to close
No awarding of grants for the Department of Natural Resource’s Open Space Land Acquisition Development Program in FY 2016
Immediate suspension of all future incentive offers to businesses, including Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) tax credits.
While Gov. Rauner began the process of anticipating an austere budget, due either to the absence of a compromise budget on July 1 or the Democrats’ passage last week of a spending plan that’s $4 billion out of balance, Senate Democrats went in the opposite direction with a significant spending proposal that would put the state’s balance sheet in even larger deficit.
Their proposal includes:
- Increasing in the state’s minimum wage, to $11 per hour in four years
- Free tuition and fees at Illinois community colleges
- State-mandated employer-paid sick time
- A state tax credit for tuition and higher education
The Senate Democrats failed to provide a cost estimate for their proposals, or an analysis of how much further these proposals would put the state into deficit.
Illinois currently faces a $6.1 billion budget deficit, by far the biggest of any state. Democrats passed a “spending plan” last week with a nearly $4 billion deficit.
Papers: Rauner/Republicans on the right track
Editorial boards in Illinois have expressed concern for a wide variety of troubles facing Illinois, Chicago, and communities throughout the state. As the debate unfolds in Springfield, many have continued to call for a change from the status quo.
On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune editorialized: “Their party [the Democrats] lost the governorship because the people of Illinois were fed up with the status quo. That hasn’t changed. The people want to fix how this sorry state does business.”
On Wednesday, an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times said that “Rauner came into office vowing to “shake up” Springfield, which is why we endorsed him, and this is what a shake-up looks like. He is right to demand basic pro-business reforms before he will even talk about raising taxes to fill a budget hole of more than $3 billion. No sense putting good money after bad.”