State House Democrats defy governor, push own budget
SPRINGFIELD -- Amid howls of protest from Republicans, the Democratic-led Illinois House passed a spending plan for next year Wednesday without considering any of the pro-business legislation GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner wants as part of a deal to end a historic budget stalemate.
The Democrats' defiance of the governor's wish for a compromise escalates a dispute that has left the state without a spending plan for 11 months. Republicans yelled and booed after Democrats abruptly stopped debate and called a vote on the budget, passing it 63-53. Seven Democrats voted no.
"What just happened in the House of Representatives is something which I've never witnessed in my many years here, but I would just say it's a very sad and a dark day for Illinois democracy," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.
Republicans held an impromptu news conference afterward on a Capitol staircase criticizing Democrats for ignoring a request to verify that lawmakers recorded as voting for the plan were truly in the House chamber.
"They ran out of the room hiding," state Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican, said of an abrupt adjournment after the vote.
A handful of suburban Democrats broke with most of their party to vote against the spending plan, including state Reps. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Carol Sente of Vernon Hills.
"To have a comprehensive, responsible budget requires revenue as well," Kifowit said. "We cannot give assurances that the money is going to flow because now it's a $7 billion deficit."
State Reps. Scott Drury of Highwood and Jack Franks of Marengo, who have sometimes voted against Democratic budget plans, also voted against it.
Democrats put the whole budget in a single bill in an attempt to force Rauner's hand. The governor's office has suggested that he would veto the plan if it reaches his desk, which could jeopardize education funding and prevent schools from opening in the fall.
Illinois is the only state in the nation still without an agreed budget for the current fiscal year. The acrimony on display Wednesday signaled the gridlock could extend into a second fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
The Democrats' budget proposal would fund everything except what's already covered under court orders. The state would be spending $13.5 billion from its general fund, which is comprised of taxes. With federal funds and other money included, the total budget would be $47.5 billion.
A huge chunk of the funding would go to public schools, which would receive a total of $11.2 billion. Rauner has repeatedly said school funding should be a top priority to ensure schools open in the fall, and what Democrats are proposing one-ups his suggested funding increase of $55 million. Democrats want to add $700 million, targeting most of the money for poorer districts.
The governor's office blasted the Democrats' overall budget idea, saying an analysis shows their plan is $7 billion out of balance. A full veto would throw schools into chaos this summer and force some to use reserves to open.
After lawmakers adjourn on May 31, three-fifths support in each chamber will be needed to pass anything.
• Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this report.