Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Thursday Deadline Looms Over State Legislators

Medicaid, pension reform, and the state budget must all be taken care of

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The governor is facing a busy week of legislating as lawmaker scramble to finish big projects.

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The end of the legislative session on Thursday, May 31 looms for Illinois legislators, but with several large issues still to tackle the General Assembly may have to stay assembled for some overtime.

The three big ones for legislators this year are Medicaid, pension reform and a budget.

Medicaid reform, at least, made some headway in both chambers over the weekend. The House and the Senate both approved of cuts to Medicaid services that didn't quite cut spending the $2.7 billion that Governor Quinn originally called for. 

The final push in the battle for Medicaid reform is the cigarette tax hike that the House passed last week, but which has yet to pass the Senate. While both chambers have passed cigarette tax bills before, Republican senators are wary of passing anything that raises taxes this close to election season. If they don't pass the cigarette tax bill though, the Medicaid budget would be left with an $800 million cigarette-tax-sized hole, according to Real Clear Politics.

Pension reforms are next on the list after Medicaid, and a source of frustration for both chambers. Though House Speaker Michael Madigan immediately threw out Governor Quinn's plan to raise the retirement age to 67, a different proposal to reduce retirement benefits was proposed over the weekend. According to Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Northbrook,  the proposal would reduce retirees' annual cost-of-living increases in exchange for keeping their health benefits, or reduce health benefits for those who would rather a higher cost-of-living increase, reports Real Clear Politics.

The final hurdle, and perhaps the hardest for the House and Senate to come to a compromise on, is the budget. In the present economy, or lack thereof, most public programs like public health, agriculture, parks, etc., will again be cut based on several budget outlines from senators, representatives, and the governor himself.

The major budget question is the schools. In the House's budget proposal suburban schools would see a 4 percent reduction in state money, and yet the Senate's plan has no education cuts at all. In fact the House's proposal is more adamant about cutting spending in general, than the Senate's plan is.

Neither side is optimistic about reaching a compromise by Thursday.

State Representative and Democrat Jack Franks said of the Senate, “They’re going to have to come down. We cannot, because of our own rules, spend more than what the revenue estimates are. So they’re going to have to come down, there’s no other way around it. I hate to say there is no compromise, but that is a fact," reports the Daily Herald.

After all of that is said and done, if in fact it is ever said and done, the chambers will be left with the Gambling bill that passed through the House last week, and then they will be free to go home.

Representative Sandy Cole, the top Republican on the House's budget committee, is more optimistic about the looming deadline than some. “Somehow, I don’t know how it happens, but it works out in the end,” she said, according to the Daily Herald. “The Senate may want to stay here longer, a couple of weeks into June to work on whatever we pass, or they can just concur with what we do and send that off to the governor.”

Note: The House passed legislation Monday that allows veterans an easier road to proving their status. Under a measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Fortner (R- West Chicago) veterans would no longer have to carry with them their discharge papers when applying for state benefits. Instead, their state IDs will be marked to denote their status. The measure passed the House 112-0 on Memorial day. 

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