State

State Senate overwhelmingly OKs $38.5B budget

Published:
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, explains the Illinois state budget agreement Wednesday at the state Capitol in Springfield.[]

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate whisked through a $38.5 billion budget Wednesday night on a 56-2 vote, a display of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans unseen in the Illinois state Capitol in years.

The spending plan increases spending by slightly more than $1 billion, but holds the line of spending and includes no new taxes, giving both sides something to boast about as they fight in the November election for control of the Governor's Mansion and General Assembly and the drawing of legislative maps after the next census.

"This isn't a budget that I would draft by myself," said Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican.

However, he said, it is a budget that's workable given "the reality of the makeup of the General Assembly" and "the philosophy of our governor."

Where Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner stands on the plan, which lawmakers said was negotiated with his budget office, is unclear. Neither he nor his office commented Wednesday.

The governor's schedule for Thursday – when the House will take up the budget plan on the last scheduled day of the spring session – includes no public events.

A holdout by Rauner similar to ones in which he has participated in his first three years in office could be politically damaging this year, given the tough re-election campaign he faces squaring off with Democrat J.B. Pritzker in November.

The budget bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, noted when answering fellow lawmakers' questions about spending reductions that they're in line with what Rauner has outlined.

"This budget is balanced, it is disciplined, it is pragmatic," Manar said in floor debate. "It approaches managing government from a perspective that I think we all should take."

But part of the reason budget-making ran more smoothly this year was because an income tax increase imposed last summer over Rauner's objections is producing $5 billion more in revenue annually. He's sure to be attacked by Democrats if he signs the current plan because he's likely to continue to campaign against the tax increase he blames on his nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago.

The House, the last stop for the spending plan before it moves to Rauner for action, spent the day tackling a mound of prickly legislation, including a historic vote to make Illinois the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It sent the governor proposals to ban the selling of tobacco to those younger than 21, authorize graduate-student researchers to unionize, and require teachers to be paid a minimum of $40,000 a year.

The House also OK'd and sent to the Senate legislation requiring a 72-hour waiting period for delivery of any gun after purchases and authorization for police to use drones to monitor crowds of 1,500 or more.

In the budget, which would take effect July 1, elementary and secondary education would get $8.3 billion in funding, a $400 million increase, said Manar, who shepherded a landmark school-funding overhaul last summer to funnel more money to the neediest schools.

Higher education features the only new spending program to which Steans could point. It's a new scholarship program for college-bound students designed to keep Illinois students in the state. Students have been leaving in droves because of the deterioration of state support for colleges and universities, which started 15 years ago but has been exacerbated by the two-year budget impasse.

"No longer will we tolerate people coming from out of state to poach our students," said Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican who represents the University of Illinois.

Rauner has proposed a $245 million reconstruction of the Quincy veterans' home to install state-of-the-art plumbing and structures to eliminate water-borne bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease and has claimed the lives of 13 residents since 2015. The budget includes $106 million to address the problem, including $37 million to replace plumbing and begin other infrastructure improvement.

There are spending reductions, too, such as at the Department of Corrections. Part of that is because of reduced inmate population – a Rauner priority to lessen the load on overburdened prisons. But there's $66 million set aside to help Corrections improve its psychiatric care for mentally ill prisoners after a federal judge ruled last week that the department has been inadequate in meeting the demands of a 2016 lawsuit settlement requiring mental health treatment in place of punishment and segregation. Corrections officials said they are considering an appeal.