Democratic state senators pass pieces of tax, spending package

Updated 5/17/2017 10:10 PM

Democrats in the Illinois Senate, frustrated with the state's 22-month budget impasse, moved Wednesday to pass much of a multi-piece tax and spending plan that their Republican counterparts said wasn't quite ready.

A $36.5 billion spending plan passed out of the chamber Thursday and heads to the House. The package includes measures that would allow slot machines at Arlington Park and casinos in Lake County and Rockford. It would allow the state to borrow money to pay down a nearly $14 billion backlog of unpaid bills and reform the state's outdated school funding system.


Other pieces of what had been dubbed a "grand bargain" compromise -- including a property tax freeze, a measure that would increase the state's income tax to 4.95 percent from its current 3.75 percent rate, and the power to implement the budget alongside a series of spending cuts -- did not advance.

Democrats described the effort as major progress under a Capitol dome that has been marked mainly by stagnation due to partisan infighting. The votes followed nearly six months of negotiations on a budget compromise plan crafted by leaders of the Senate.

"If you think about it, a child that was born the last day that the state had a budget would now be a toddler that's walking and talking," said state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat.

A vote on workers' compensation reform is expected Thursday, and more budget meetings between senators of both parties are also scheduled.

"The issues that were ready, we Republicans joined in a bipartisan fashion," said state Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican and key budget negotiator, noting that "the devil is in the details."

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The governor's office declined to comment on the Senate's actions in their totality Wednesday but noted in a statement that the school funding bill was not crafted in a spirit of bipartisanship.

Under the formula, districts with higher property wealth are expected to contribute more and districts with greater needs to achieve what it calls a level of "adequacy" would contribute less. The state would contribute $215 million toward Chicago Public School pensions, which Rauner's office deemed a "Chicago bailout."

House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said the bills would be sent to the appropriate committees in the Democratic-led chamber.

The legislative session is scheduled to end May 31. After the annual session ends, legislation is required to pass by a wider margin -- three-fifths rather than a simple majority.

"There is a lack of trust in this building," state Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat, said after the votes. "We've got to figure out how to get past that. Everyone has a responsibility. The state's still here for now."

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