State leaders are hopeful that they can buck recent history and get a budget passed before the end of this legislative session.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said it could be a much easier process this time around because both sides are starting at the same spot on revenue.
“The governor is assuming a lot more money than we had in the past,” Cullerton said after meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner and the other three legislative leaders last week. “He’s assuming the tax increase he vetoed is obviously necessary. That is why it’s included in his budget. He wants us to start with that number. So that’s a big help.”
The Senate leader said that the Illinois General Assembly is in a stronger place now for budget negotiations than it was heading into fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
“We are better than what we had for the two-year period where there was no budget at all. So that’s a positive thing,” Cullerton said.
Based on discussions in the meeting, Cullerton said, he is going to assume that the governor is supportive of the revenue estimates generated by the income tax increase.
While pleased with the agreed-upon starting point, Cullerton said the governor’s campaign stance of trying to roll back the 32 percent income tax hike while banking on that money for budget negotiations doesn’t match.
“It doesn’t square,” Cullerton said of Rauner’s position. “It’s hypocritical and inconsistent.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said with more than a month to go in the current legislative session there is definitely time to get a budget deal approved.
“We can get to the task of getting a balanced budget done, if the Democrats want to cooperate with us,” Durkin said. “They will work with us to certify a revenue estimate which is something they had refused to do over the years.”
He said getting a budget deal worked out would be a good step for the state.
“That will be a foundation for us to be able to work off a budget that will be balanced, one in which revenues will meet expenditures,” he said.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington said there was progress made at last week’s gathering of legislative leaders.
“The Democratic leaders agreed to make their appointments to the budget-steering process and they also agreed that we would certify a number for revenues, important critical steps,” Brady said.
Brady said the governor and Republicans asking for a balanced budget with no tax increase is a reasonable request.
Durkin said Republicans have always been open to generating additional state revenue if there were structural reforms included in the budget process.
“We believe there are savings we can make to Illinois taxpayers, namely, to start with pension reform,” Durkin said. “That is an extremely important issue which we believe would bring significant savings to start scaling back, if Democrats wish to agree with us, the tax they imposed on Illinois citizens and small businesses last year.”
The House Republican leader said just because more money could be available with the tax-hike dollars doesn’t mean that more spending must accompany that.
“We have to be wise with our spending and I think the goal is we need to scale back,” Durkin said. “We don’t need to spend everything. That’s the money that is certified, that is part of the negotiations process and which party has the best interest of taxpayers in mind. Hopefully, the Democrats will agree with us.”
Cullerton said the governor also asked he and House Speaker Michael Madigan to appoint someone to his task force on gun-safety legislation and mental health concerns. He said there is currently $26 million in appropriations on the governor’s desk for mental health funding that needs to be signed.
Speaking before the Illinois Chamber of Commerce last week, Rauner reiterated his call for legislation to pass a balanced budget with no new taxes.
“If we can pair a balanced budget with tax relief, a new era of business, job and personal income growth is sure to begin,” Rauner said.
— State leaders count on tax-hike funds —