Illinois Senate Leader Suggests Bucking Governor on Budget

The Democratic-controlled Illinois Legislature "doesn't need the governor" to enact an elusive budget deal to end a two-year impasse, the Senate president said Friday ahead of a special session.

John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, told The Associated Press that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's call for lawmakers to return to Springfield for the rest of the month is ill-advised. But if attendance is required, he said, House Republicans should pitch in to provide support for the $37 billion spending plan aimed at ending the longest fiscal stalemate of any state since at least the Great Depression.

"It's time to call it, and if they want to make some modifications, fine," Cullerton said.

He suggested House Republican Leader Jim Durkin doesn't need to worry about currying favor with Rauner now because the rules for passing a budget in the overtime session require a three-fifths supermajority. If there is such a vote, which would require GOP support, it would be able to override a gubernatorial veto anyway.

In May, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly adjourned its spring session without reaching an annual budget deal with Rauner for the third straight year. When the fiscal year ends June 30, the state will have a $6.2 billion deficit and a pile of past-due bills topping $15 billion. Because of court-ordered spending, government operations continue at a pace in which spending outstrips revenue by $7 billion a year.

Cullerton has waged a campaign to publicize the budget plan the Senate approved after negotiating with Republicans, even though none ultimately voted for it. That plan's $37.3 billion bottom line, the same total Rauner proposed in February, combines $5.4 billion in tax increases with $3 billion in spending cuts sought by Republicans.

In separate legislation, Cullerton maintains the Senate approved major "structural" changes Rauner has demanded, from revamping the hugely underfunded pension systems to a two-year freeze on local property taxes.

"Just exactly what else are we supposed to do?" asked a frustrated Cullerton.

For a budget to take effect July 1, it needs 71 House votes. There are only 66 Democrats in the chamber.

Rep. Lou Lang, the Democrats' deputy majority leader, said to "force a budget" on Rauner is not the best way to go and Republicans don't appear eager to help.

"There's no evidence at this time that the Republicans are willing to join in anything that looks like the Senate version of the budget and no evidence that they're willing to support anything that we've put on the table," the Skokie Democrat said.

But Cullerton says the time is ripe for Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, to persuade his caucus to buck the governor.

"Leader Durkin has to understand: He doesn't even need the governor now," Cullerton said. "You need a three-fifths vote to pass a bill, and a three-fifths vote to override a veto. So he and the speaker themselves can work out an agreement. ... We've already heard some Republican state reps say that they're willing to vote for a tax increase, enough's enough."

Durkin said the best way to get a budget agreement is through the collective efforts of Rauner and the four legislative leaders.

A spokeswoman for Rauner did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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