Riopell: No Illinois budget, more blame as stalemate ends second week
By Mike Riopell
What you won't see as Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers head into the weekend is a finished state budget.
Suburban lawmakers of both parties are urging their leaders to get together and cut a deal after a 10-day impasse, but so far it's hard to foresee how their fundamental differences can be resolved.
What you have instead seen is an ongoing public fight over whose fault it all is.
"There's a lot of posturing going on right now," said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat.
The latest: Democrats Thursday kept advancing a one-month spending plan toward Rauner's desk, even though Rauner, a Republican, has said he will not sign it.
The Democrats' move could be seen as an attempt to pressure Rauner to do something to stop the stalemate and to try to steer the blame his way if the state can't meet payroll later this month.
Republicans say the stopgap plan goes down the path toward an unbalanced budget and they blame Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan for Illinois still not having a budget for the year that began July 1.
Some of the debate Thursday focused on what already happened weeks ago.
Democrats say Rauner could have avoided a state shutdown by using his powers to rewrite the budget they sent him, rather than vetoing most of it.
"A simple stroke of the pen, ladies and gentlemen, would have fixed all of this," state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, said.
Republicans say it's lawmakers' job to come up with a balanced yearlong budget.
"Quit asking the governor to do your dirty work," said state Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican.
Why the blame game?
Who feels the most pressure and blame in the end could be significant to the eventual resolution. Someone eventually has to give in at least a little, and each side might think high heat could make the other's staunch positions malleable.
Crespo said Republicans' idea that Democrats should vote for a tax hike on their own to balance the budget is "absurd" because many suburban members of the legislature's dominant party don't back a hike, at least for now.
State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, says avoiding a tax increase is key for his constituents and said they're tired of the name-calling.
"Absolutely. People are sick and tired of it," he said.
Lawmakers are set to meet again next week, and some Democrats could be looking to try to override Rauner's budget vetoes. But that could be tough.
A somber note
The Illinois House has voted to name the bridge at routes 38 and 53 in DuPage County after former county board member Jerry "JR" McBride, who died last fall after a long cancer battle.
"He lived vigorously and purposefully and never once complained about his station in life," Sandack said.
Rep. Deb Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, also spoke to honor McBride, who was her cousin and a Republican.
"As ... one of the first Democrats to come out of the closet in DuPage County, my cousin was very proud of me. And he supported me 110 percent," Conroy said.
More on teacher pensions
Illinois' pension debt talk showed up in Congress this week.
A proposal from U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, a Kenilworth Republican, would keep Illinois schools from using some federal money to pay for old pension debt.
Specifically, the plan targets money sent to districts to help low-income students. The state has pulled some of that federal money to not only pay for teachers' ongoing retirement benefits, but also old debt.
Dold's plan would prevent using the money on debt, and it was approved by the U.S. House this week as part of a larger plan.
"We shouldn't be using federal dollars intended to help our children in the classroom to bail out state legislators who can't agree on a fiscally responsible budget," Dold said.