Suburban Democrats say they won't back budget with $3 billion deficit

If Democrats want to send a budget to Gov. Bruce Rauner, they might have to do so without the votes of some suburban party members in the Illinois Senate.

Some Senate Democrats are balking at the idea of approving a budget that would spend about $3 billion more than the state is set to take in next year as party leaders prepare to send the spending plan to Rauner.

"I'm not going to be supporting an unbalanced budget," said state Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat.

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, said he also will not vote for a plan that has a deficit that big. Democratic state Sens. Julie Morrison of Deerfield and Melinda Bush of Grayslake say they're undecided.

"That (deficit spending) is kind of how we got here," Morrison said.

Having some suburban lawmakers hold out doesn't necessarily spell doom for Democrats' budget plan, which they're still in the process of unveiling.

Case in point: The Illinois House has started approving the spending plan, with top Democrats arguing that the budget plan submitted by Rauner was widely out of balance, too. The $2.2 billion in pension benefit cuts the governor was counting on didn't materialize and likely won't anytime soon.

Plus, Rauner counted on savings from cutting back how much communities get in state income taxes, but that move requires a change in law, and lawmakers haven't seriously debated the idea all year.

"It wasn't even balanced from day one," state Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat, said. "It was built upon assumptions that weren't reality. It was built upon taking out the middle class."

Democrats approved the first of many pieces of budget legislation Tuesday by a 64-51 vote, with Democratic state Reps. Scott Drury of Highwood, Jack Franks of Marengo, Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Sam Yingling of Grayslake joining Republicans in voting against it.

Other votes followed, and each of those pieces was approved. State Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, voted against some later pieces. They now go to the Senate.

Democratic leaders want to send Rauner a budget that would need either further cuts or more tax revenue to come into balance. Democrats control the Illinois Capitol and can approve it without GOP help.

Republicans have decried that effort as playing political games. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs referred to an old saying about insanity being the act of doing something over and over.

"You're insane," Durkin said.

Democrats have 39 members in the Illinois Senate, and they need only 30 to approve budget proposals. So suburban members who tend to be more fiscally conservative - and might face more political blowback for supporting an unbalanced budget - could object while Democratic leaders move forward anyway.

Cullerton has said he's running for Congress, and Noland is considering a bid. Morrison and Bush represent districts considered competitive.

Back in the Illinois House, some Democrats appear ready to send a complete budget to Rauner, who can send a smaller budget back to lawmakers, cut some spending on his own or veto the whole thing.

"Any governor at any time can veto anything we send him in whole or line by line, so I think it really does give him the ability to set the tone for what he wants his administration to be doing," state Rep. Michelle Mussman, a Schaumburg Democrat, said.

If Democrats send a budget to Gov. Bruce Rauner without his input, spending power is in the Republican's hands anyway as he decides what to do next.

"It gives the governor a lot of leeway," said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.

It also means the numbers Democrats use to describe the spending plan they're crafting might not be the final say in the matter. State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, acknowledged as much even as lawmakers got parts of the budget moving Tuesday morning.

"We'll see what the governor does with the reduction veto," Crespo said about Rauner's ability to override budget line items.

The budget wrangling sets the stage for a dispute between lawmakers and Rauner that could last into the summer or longer.

"What is your intention for revenue to pay for this budget?" state Rep. Patti Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican, asked at a hearing Tuesday morning.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, replied that the state needed to find more money.

Rauner this year proposed deep cuts across state government that prompted months worth of protests at the state Capitol.

Lawmakers' budget deadline is supposed to be May 31, and Democrats are likely to shoot for sending Rauner their plan by the end of this week. But the calendar provides a more pressing deadline at July 1, the start of the state's next budget year.

Depending on what Rauner decides, the state could enter July without a budget in place, raising the specter of a government shutdown. And Democrats could hold onto the budget paperwork until right before then, forcing Rauner to make a decision in a hurry and perhaps limiting his options.

He's asked lawmakers to get moving on his policy agenda, which includes a property tax freeze and pro-businesses changes, before he'd consider new taxes. But Democrats haven't budged.

Rep. David Harris said Democrats have the numbers to approve a tax hike and override Rauner's veto if they vote in unison. In the House, Democrats have 71 members and need only 60 to approve something.

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State Sen. Julie Morrison
State Sen. Melinda Bush
State Rep. David Harris
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will be tasked with deciding what to do next with state Democrats' spending plan. Associated Press File Photo
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will be tasked with deciding what to do next with state Democrats' spending plan. Associated Press File Photo
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