Parties jockey for position on state budget

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate sent Gov. Pat Quinn a budget that cuts about $1.6 billion from his original proposal Monday as lawmakers charged toward their scheduled adjournment Tuesday night.

The legislature's Democratic majority took a major step toward meeting their deadline when the Senate voted Monday night to accept a series of budget proposals that had already made their way through the House. This version of the budget rejects key parts of Quinn's spending proposal. It assumes lower spending, leaves out a huge borrowing plan and ignores some revenue measures he wanted.

Senate Democrats said it would cut about $1.6 billion from Quinn's original proposal.

“We made tough cuts. We took action,” said Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat.

In the meantime, lawmakers gave up for the time being on trying to make changes to the state pension systems, saying they'd try again in the fall. House Republican Leader Tom Cross had pushed for legislation that would have forced teachers and many other public employees pay more toward their own retirements.

But following strong pushback from unions for teachers and other government workers, Cross and House Speaker Michael Madigan released a statement saying they'd keep exploring the idea and try again later.

So for now, teachers' pension plans won't change.

“Our goal is to enact reforms to our pension systems that provide a long-term solution for both those who are members of the pension systems and those who fund them,” Cross and Madigan said in a joint statement.

In the budget that the Senate approved, total education spending, for instance, would be $9 billion under the legislation approved by the Senate, down from $9.5 billion proposed by Quinn. Current education spending is nearly $9.3 billion.

Instead of Quinn's proposed $14.4 billion in human services, the legislation calls for $13.6 billion. That's up from the current $13.4 billion.

House Republicans backed the budget, but their Senate counterparts said it didn't go nearly far enough. Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, called it the “last piece of cement and concrete in a Democrat plan” to make the state's new tax increase permanent.

But this isn't the last word on the budget.

The Senate's Democratic majority also voted to add back about $430 million in spending, and it's not clear what the House will do with that proposal. In addition, the Democratic governor could use his veto powers to make changes.

Quinn budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the governor will take a hard look at the plan.

“The governor has been clear since he proposed the budget in February that while we put our fiscal house in order, we must continue to protect core priorities that will benefit the state now and in the future,” Kraft said.

Previously, the House and Senate had approved competing budgets.

Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat and chair of a key budget committee, said he was glad to see lawmakers approve the House's proposed budget, which spent less than the Senate's version.

Still, he said he was aware state budget cuts could cause some pain to some people who depend on state money.

“It's a good feeling to know all the hard work paid off in getting something done,” Crespo said.

Ÿ Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell contributed to this story.

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Matt Murphy
Dan Kotowski