Budget bleak if House and Senate don’t cooperate

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The good news is, Illinois has a state budget. The bad news is that it includes a lot less money for public services – unless lawmakers work together to restore the funding.

House Speaker Michael Madigan will bring his members back next week to give them a chance to offer legislation to override $1.4 billion in spending cuts made by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But several obstacles stand in the way.

For one, the House won’t go along with most of the governor’s ideas for generating revenue. So even if the Houses reverses the cuts, that doesn’t mean there would be money to cover the restored spending.

Also, any cuts undone by the House would need Senate approval. The Senate plans no action.

That the state has a budget at all is an improvement over last year’s record standoff between the governor and Legislature, when temporary budgets had to be enacted for July and August to keep government functioning.

But unless the two chambers work together now, taxpayers will be left with deep cuts in spending for social services, education and health care. And cuts to the budgets of other statewide constitutional officers possibly eyeing the governor’s chair in 2010 would stand.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan called the cuts “irresponsible” and “politically motivated” on Friday, while Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said they were “petty and vindictive.”

A Blagojevich spokesman did not return a call seeking comment on the cuts.

Speaker Madigan – Lisa Madigan’s father – has offered to compromise on one of Blagojevich’s revenue ideas: Taking money out of accounts set aside for special purposes. But fellow Democrat Blagojevich wanted to “sweep” $530 million; Madigan would limit it to $300 million.

That’s a “drop in the bucket” compared to what’s necessary to fill the hole, Senate President Emil Jones said after the Senate left Thursday. So he won’t bring his members back.

“There’s no sense in playing games,” said the Chicago Democrat, one of Blagojevich’s chief allies. “The money’s not there.”

Blagojevich also had proposed refinancing pension debt to free up $500 million, an idea he dropped before calling the Legislature into special session this week.

He said as much as $600 million could be spared in the operating budget if lawmakers OK’d a $34 billion capital construction plan. But the ideas to finance that – a major expansion of legalized gambling and leasing the state Lottery to a private vendor – failed to get House support.

“It’s kind of the same old song,” House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said. “When people don’t talk, you have chaos and you have … ‘dysfunction.’ It does beg the question, ‘Why are you coming back,’ because what is there to do?”

Madigan would say little about what overrides of Blagojevich’s cuts would mean without enough money to back them. He rejected Blagojevich’s claim that Madigan plans a post-election income-tax increase, although he left his options open for next spring.

“This is a complicated process and Illinois today has a budget, minus the reductions of the governor,” Madigan said. “Illinois government is moving forward.”

Voting to override the cuts – however meaningless without Senate action – could provide election-year cover for Democrats, who can tell voters they tried to undo Blagojevich’s cuts.

Senate Democrats, led by Jones, can blame the House, saying they endorsed revenues to cover the hoped-for budget but the House wouldn’t go along. That’s what the governor has done for weeks.

One thing Madigan can’t do is attempt to restore deep reductions in the budgets of constitutional officers, including that of his daughter, a potential gubernatorial candidate in two years. Proposed spending by Lisa Madigan’s office was slashed 25 percent, including $7 million for staff salaries.

Millions of dollars also were sliced from the budgets of the comptroller, treasurer and lieutenant governor – all possible challengers for Blagojevich’s seat.

But those cuts are in a Senate bill, so that chamber would have to override the cuts before the House got a crack at them.

Associated Press Writer Deanna Bellandi contributed to this report.