Illinois lawmakers pass $700 million for human services programs

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois lawmakers approved $700 million Thursday to partially finance cash-strapped human services programs during the state's historic budget stalemate, even as the governor considered tax increases and cuts that could finally move the state toward a full spending plan.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the short-term aid, undermining Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's idea of a "grand bargain" to pass a whole budget by month's end instead of another temporary fix during his nearly yearlong standoff with Democrats.

The funding bill passed as a bipartisan group of budget-writing lawmakers gave legislative leaders and the governor's staff recommendations for a full budget like Rauner wants. The group is suggesting raising the income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.85 percent and a sales-tax expansion to raise $5.4 billion, according to three people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan hasn't been publicly released.

Among the recommendations are $2.4 billion in cuts, including $400 million from Medicaid and $440 million the state won't pay back to funds it borrowed from, such as the School Infrastructure Fund and the Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund.

The group is also suggesting that the state borrow $5 billion to be paid back over five years to help with a backlog of bills, and addressing large salary bumps in the final years of state worker's career which contribute to larger pension benefits.

The state is facing a $5 billion deficit and a backlog of unpaid bills nearing $7 billion.

Republican Rep. David McSweeney bashed the group's suggestions, saying raising taxes would be a job killer and that lawmakers should focus on reforming pensions and Medicaid spending.

"I hope this plan is not for real because if it is it's a complete disaster and I 1,000 percent oppose it," the suburban Chicago lawmaker said.

Legislative leaders still have to sign off on the recommendations, and the group's negotiations did not include talks on Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda," a set of union-weakening, pro-business demands the governor has said need to be part of a budget agreement and a condition to raising taxes.

Before lawmakers voted on the aid to human services programs, Rauner said he wanted lawmakers to focus on passing a full budget by month's end.

"Let's not spend too much time trying to do more bridge deals, short-term deals when we've only got two-and-half weeks left," Rauner said.

But nearly every Republican joined all 71 Democrats in the House and all but two of the 39 Democrats in the Senate to approve the $700 million for social services, sending it to Rauner for his signature.

The proposal would fund 46 percent of what human services programs expected to receive had the state budget taken effect July 1. A fund dedicated to human services would provide $450 million, with other special funds making up the rest of the proposal with $250 million.

The money would go to programs including homelessness prevention, rental assistance, addiction treatment, and veterans' rehabilitation.

Shortly after the vote, the governor's office questioned the legality of the measure, saying language in it might prohibit some agencies from funding the programs as the bill intends. When asked whether he would veto the bill, Rauner declined to answer.

Lawmakers have enough votes to override the governor if he vetoes bill.

Supporters of the bill said the programs need the funding now, even if the measure is not a permanent solution.

"This is a Band-Aid on a much, much bigger problem," Chicago Democratic Rep. Ann Williams said. "And we need to redouble our efforts on getting the full funding for these organizations because every day that goes by, that there's not full funding, is risking the health of the organizations, jeopardizing the infrastructure that exists."

State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, speaks to reporters while on the House floor Thursday at the State Capitol. Associated Press
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.