On Illinois' 700th Day Without a Budget, Deadline Looms With No Deal in Sight

Wednesday marks both the final day of the Illinois spring legislative session, as well as the state’s 700th day without a budget – and there is no deal in sight.

With lawmakers set to depart after midnight, Springfield has already seen high tensions, with protests and criticism expected to continue.

Traditionally in years past, the May 31 deadline has meant last-minute meetings with the four leaders of both the Illinois House and Senate, as well as the governor, but the Capitol hasn’t seen high-level summits like that in quite some time.

"The situation is dire,” said Republican State Sen. Karen McConnaughey, of Elgin. “We've got to keep working on it, we've got to stay at the table,” she continued. “We've been trying to do that - the Republicans have been sitting at the table, waiting for the Democrats to come back and continue the conversation where we left off.”

But Democrats shared that their hesitation to negotiate centers on Gov. Bruce Rauner.

"Our biggest fear is no matter what we agree to, as we’ve seen times in the Senate, whatever we agree to, the governor is going to try to blow it up first. If it passes, he's going to veto it," said Democratic State Rep. Greg Harris, of Chicago.

Yet another Republican said that Rauner has already compromised on his core issues – even the income tax increase passed by the Senate, which reportedly does not have enough votes in the House to reach his desk.

"We're not cutting any spending. We're not doing pension reform. We're not doing Medicaid reform,” said Barrington State Rep. Dave McSweeney, adding, “The governor has been secretly negotiating a tax increase.”

With just hours to go, it appears as though there will be no budget deal, and if lawmakers fail to approve some form of compromise, they will then need two-thirds approval, rather than a simple majority, on any legislation passed after the end of session.

“Today we’ve seen a complete dereliction of duty by the majority in the General Assembly,” Rauner said during a press conference Wednesday. “Once again, a tragic failure to serve the people of Illinois.”

Even before the midnight deadline, the Illinois House already preemptively approved meetings in continuous session, planning to return to Springfield on Wednesdays throughout June, with the next goal (barring any last minute Wednesday agreement) as June 30.

By then, schools, particularly Chicago Public Schools, will be even more anxious to see what state funding for the fall may look like.

While the final day has seen no protests, activists came to Springfield Tuesday to express their disdain over the state’s nearly two-yearlong budget impasse, storming the Capitol in a spectacle that ended in multiple arrests.

After about a dozen protesters were removed from the House gallery for disrupting session in the afternoon, dozens gathered in front of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office late into the night, refusing to leave until state police arrived. [[425408674, C]]

"What do we want? Universal mental healthcare," they chanted. "When do we want it? Now."

Many of those participating represented social service agencies that have not been paid during the impasse, with some taking part in a March to Springfield to send a message.

"People are angry because they’re hurting,” said Kristi Sanford, of activist group The People’s Lobby. “So we have people who’ve marched 15 days and 200 miles from Chicago to Springfield because they’ve lost loved ones without health care, or they can’t get the mental health care they need, or their schools are underfunded or their MAP grants have been taken away.”

State Capitol police issued three warnings to the protesters, who zip tied themselves together in front of Rauner’s office, and just after 10:30 p.m., those refusing to move were arrested and removed.

Thirty-four people were taken into custody, held for about an hour and then released, authorities said, adding that they will be charged with criminal trespassing.

While a budget deal remains elusive, lawmakers continued to pass other legislation Wednesday, with several lobbyists – including one of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s closest aides, Michael Sacks – monitoring the action from both chambers.

Two people that remained out of sight on session’s final day? Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, both figures central to the stalemate.

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