Illinois Governor's Office: Senate Plan Won't Erase Deficit

An Illinois Senate plan to end the state's two-year budget stalemate would still leave a $4.3 billion deficit, Gov. Bruce Rauner's office said Wednesday in a review obtained by The Associated Press.

The analysis found that the package of legislation, which includes an income tax increase, would bolster revenue in the current fiscal year by $1.7 billion. But The Governor's Office of Management and Budget found $4.4 billion in spending, leaving a June 30 end-of-year deficit of $4.3 billion.

In November, the office pegged the hole at $5.3 billion if nothing is done.

Officials from both parties say the review underscores the lack of a quick-fix in the budget debacle.

The Senate plan emerged as the best hope for a compromise following months of inconclusive talks, canceled meetings and public sparring between Rauner and Democratic legislators.

Since early 2015, Rauner has demanded that a budget deal include pro-business laws, a property-tax freeze and limits on politicians' power — all things Democrats say are irrelevant in discussions over how to fix the deficit.

Chicago Democratic Sen. Donne Trotter, an assistant majority leader, was unfazed. The Senate is aiming for swift action to balance books, but the legislation set for public hearings next week is not in final form, he cautioned.

"We put out a plan for everyone to look at so that we, collectively, can come up with ideas to make it balanced," Trotter said. "We haven't vetted the whole thing out. But this is a huge step from where no one was talking at all."

Rauner said he plans to stay out of the talks while Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont deals with Chicago Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.

"It's great that the senators just talk to the senators and see if they can get a deal done," Rauner said Wednesday. "I don't think outside interference is necessarily a good thing."

The Senate's proposed fix would increase personal income taxes from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. Another measure would impose a tax on sugary drinks, which manufacturers oppose. A Trotter bill would borrow $7 billion to pay down an $11 billion stack of overdue bills. The compromise comes with legislation targeted for Rauner's sake, reducing workers compensation costs and freezing property taxes.

But it includes $4.4 billion in spending not currently ordered by courts, including $215 million grant to help Chicago Public Schools pay teacher pensions. The state picks up that portion for instructors outside Chicago.

House Republicans requested the analysis. Barrington Hills Republican Rep. David McSweeney was unconvinced, saying "Raising the income tax by 32 percent and imposing a massive new beverage tax will kill jobs and hurt families." He wants reformed pension and Medicaid programs to save money.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the legislature's bipartisan budgeting arm, had no qualms with the governor's estimates. Executive Director Dan Long says no plan this late in the fiscal year would eliminate the deficit by June 30. And the governor's estimate of a $2.3 billion deficit at the end of June 2018 is within the commission's projections as well.

"It's going to take several years to get us out of this," Long said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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