5 things you need to know about the Illinois budget crisis

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is heading toward a second year without a state budget, putting some schools and colleges in jeopardy of closing and all but ensuring more social services and state programs will be cut amid a legislative standoff unlike anything the state has ever seen.

With the Legislature set to adjourn its spring session Tuesday night, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and majority Democrats remain deadlocked over a spending plan and business-friendly laws Rauner has made a condition of any budget deal.

The state already has gone almost a full fiscal year without a budget. Democrats on Tuesday could give final approval to a spending plan for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, but Rauner has said he'll veto it because the measure spends about $7 billion more than Illinois is expected to take in without addressing additional revenues. Rauner instead is making a last-ditch effort to pass a short-term spending bill and provide money for schools — an idea he opposed and some Democrats were pushing just days ago.

While there is still time for lawmakers to reach a deal before the new fiscal year begins July 1, doing so gets even tougher after Tuesday's deadline, both because of rules setting higher thresholds for approval and the November election campaign.

Here are some questions and answers about how the state got here, and what could happen next:

Q: What's the problem?

A: Rauner and the state's top Democrats, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, have been at odds since the governor took office promising to make Illinois more economically competitive. To do that, Rauner says the Legislature must pass measures such as limiting collective bargaining by public-worker unions and reducing the cost to businesses of workers' compensation insurance.

Rauner says that if Democrats agree to some of those changes, he'll sign off on tax increases to help close Illinois' multibillion-dollar budget deficit. But Democrats say the governor's own proposals will harm middle class families, unions and vulnerable residents.

They've gone almost 11 months without agreeing on a plan for the current fiscal year. While much spending has continued because of court orders or state law, funding to universities and many social service agencies has stopped. That's led to layoffs, closures and a lot of uncertainty.

Q: Why are schools at risk?

A: Last year, Democrats sent Rauner an out-of-balance budget that was separated into multiple pieces of legislation. Rauner vetoed everything except the bill that included K-12 education, leaving schools largely unaffected by the impasse this fiscal year and relieving one of the biggest pressures on lawmakers to get a deal.

But this time, the Legislature is appears ready to finish its session without sending a budget to the governor.

That has school districts worried that they won't get state money they normally would begin receiving this summer.

Many school districts have cash reserves or will receive local property tax money in time to open this fall. But depending on how long the impasse continues, administrators say they could have trouble continuing to pay teachers and keep utilities on. That's particularly true in poorer districts.

Q: What are the options

A: House Democrats last week approved a roughly $40 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It would increase funding for K-12 education by $700 million and allow spending occurring under court order or consent decrees, such as Medicaid, to continue at current rates.

Supporters call it an "insurance policy" that will keep schools open and government functioning.

But Rauner said he would veto the measure because it spends about $7 billion more than Illinois' anticipated revenues. And late Tuesday, the Democrat-led Senate voted down the plan amid concerns that it spends too much.

Instead, Senate Democrats passed a stand-alone school funding bill that increases education spending by about $900 million. But with just minutes to go before midnight, the House soundly defeated that proposal.

Though neither measure made it to Rauner's desk, politically the votes allow Democrats to head into the November elections — when all House seats and several Senate seats are up for re-election — telling voters they approved a big increase in education funding and money for a lot of other popular programs.

Rauner, meanwhile, made a last-ditch effort to pass a short-term spending bill and provide money for schools. While Democratic leaders said they'd consider it, they said they wouldn't approve it Tuesday.

Q: Why was Tuesday so important?

A: There were two reasons. After Tuesday, it requires a three-fifths majority of legislators rather than a simple majority to pass a budget bill, making it far tougher to get the necessary "yes" votes.

Tuesday at 5 p.m. also was the deadline for candidates running for office in November to file with the state elections board. That pushed key votes to the late evening, after lawmakers knew for certain whether they'll face an opponent this fall.

Q: What's next?

A: Rauner started a two-day statewide tour Wednesday in which he's calling on Democrats to send him a K-12 funding bill and a stop-gap spending plan to fund critical state operations.

Cullerton said Senate Democrats will begin working again Wednesday to try to reach an agreement in hopes of getting a deal within a week, and Madigan has scheduled House lawmakers to return to Springfield every Wednesday in June beginning next week.

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