Illinois Senate condemns House version of budget

By Christopher Willis

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois Democrats continued to feud over a new state budget Wednesday, with the state Senate taking the rare step of passing a resolution condemning a House-approved version of the budget.

The Senate then adjourned until next week, and the governor and legislative leaders met but didn’t even discuss the budget. Instead, Gov. Rod Blagojevich devoted the meeting to tax increment financing districts in Cook County.

With talks at a standstill and the current budget set to expire June 30, Senate President Emil Jones said officials should consider a one-month extension of the current budget to keep state government running in July.

Blagojevich’s aides refused to answer any questions about the budget.

The Senate resolution has no official impact, but supporters say it sends a clear message that the House budget is unacceptable. Jones, D-Chicago, called it a “sincere effort to really jump-start negotiations.”

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But Republicans dismissed it as a stunt that does nothing to settle the state’s budget problems.

“Most people, they could care less about this resolution and this gamesmanship and this silly, egotistical back and forth,” said Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst.

The resolution passed 33-19.

Democrats control the House, Senate and governor’s office but are deadlocked over the budget.

Jones and Blagojevich favor about $5 billion in new spending on schools and health care. They would come up with the money by raising business taxes and legalizing more casinos.

But House Speaker Michael Madigan favors a much smaller budget, with schools getting the only major spending increase. The House approved a version that depends on natural revenue growth and ending a handful of business tax breaks.

Madigan, D-Chicago, has repeatedly called that version “the high-water mark” for the budget, arguing that a larger budget cannot pass.

The House budget does not include enough new money to cover all the state’s new expenses. Madigan and his aides have suggested that gap could be addressed by paying bills more slowly and cutting vacant state jobs.

But the Senate resolution argues the shortfall would require painful cuts to education, health care and other social services.

Madigan said Senate Democrats are “grasping at straws” with their resolution. He repeatedly noted the House version of the budget is the only spending plan that has passed one of the legislative chambers.

The governor and legislative leaders met for about 90 minutes Wednesday, but several participants said there was no discussion of the budget. Blagojevich has arranged for a series of presentations at recent meetings, on topics including mass transit, health care and now TIF districts.

“It’s getting to the point that it’s rather embarrassing and actually a bit disgusting,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “We’re not getting anywhere. The bottom line is, I think the Democrats have failed Illinois residents.”