Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders agreed Thursday to work on a one-month, stop-gap budget to prevent state government from shutting down July 1. The “bare bones” spending plan can be approved by lawmakers next week, they said.
By DOUG FINKE
STATE CAPITOL BUREAU
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders agreed Thursday to work on a one-month, stop-gap budget to prevent state government from shutting down July 1.
The “bare bones” spending plan can be approved by lawmakers next week, they said.
The current state budget expires June 30, and with it, the state’s authority to write checks for most expenses, including state employee paychecks.
“Everyone expressed their commitment to keep the government operations of Illinois going,” said Blagojevich, making a rare public statement after a meeting with the leaders in his Capitol office.
“I don’t think anybody wanted to go down that road,” said House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego about the possibility of a government shutdown.
“My read on it was there was a strong commitment by everybody to do this.”
That includes House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who a day earlier said Blagojevich and the leaders should continue to focus on negotiating a new 12-month budget for the state.
Negotiators from both parties in the House and Senate will work through the weekend to craft the one-month spending plan.
Despite pledges from everyone to keep state government operating, there are potential pitfalls. The governor and leaders must still agree on what should go into a bare-bones budget, whether it’s for one month or one year. They acknowledged that a number of issues must be negotiated, such whether the budget should include money to cover union pay raises set to go into effect July 1.
“That’s to be negotiated, but I would assume anything that takes place July 1, if it’s an increase in salaries, that would be included. Should be,” said Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson of Greenville.
Madigan agreed that number of issues must be negotiated, but he declined to elaborate.
“It’s a basic continuation of state services. I’m not prepared to go beyond that,” he said.
Blagojevich and the four leaders have been unable to agree on a new spending plan for the state, prompting the overtime legislation session that’s now nearly three weeks old.
On Monday, Comptroller Dan Hynes warned of financial upheaval if the budget impasse continued into July and he did not have authority to write checks for state expenses. Not only would state workers miss paydays, but payments to schools, Medicaid providers, foster parents, social service agencies and others would be disrupted, Hynes told the governor and leaders.
In 2004, when the General Assembly last went into overtime because of a budget dispute, lawmakers also passed a one-month spending plan to keep operations going. However, in 1991, thousands of state workers went through a payless payday when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a permanent budget and did not pass a temporary one, either.
Some of the leaders acknowledged that a temporary budget will take pressure off of negotiators to quickly compromise on a permanent spending plan.
“It does take the pressure off, but I’m not willing to play that game of chicken at the expense of Illinois residents and taxpayers,” Cross said.
“We now have six weeks,” Blagojevich said. “If we can’t finish (a full budget) by the end of next week, then we will be working through July to make sure we can get a budget that addresses the priorities we care about.”
Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, thought the short-term agreement might actually hasten developments on a yearlong budget.
“Perhaps this will jump-start members into really sitting down, trying to get a decent budget together,” he said.
In other developments Thursday, Blagojevich said he asked the four leaders for their top budget priority. None of them, he said, named universal health insurance, which has been the governor’s top priority this spring. Jones, Blagojevich’s chief legislative ally, said education funding was the Senate Democrats’ top priority.
Watson said Blagojevich finally backed off of the gross-receipts tax he proposed to pay for health care and education. The tax has gotten virtually no support in the General Assembly, but Blagojevich continued to bring it up during budget talks.
“He wouldn’t say it is off the table, but he said we’re going to proceed ahead without the gross-receipts tax,” Watson said. “I think that’s a significant step for him.”
Also Thursday, 22 House Democrats who voted in May for a limited-growth budget said the spending plan isn’t enough.
“We understood this to be a ‘baseline’ budget to serve as a point of departure for further discussion among all concerned parties, but far from an adequate budget to meet our state’s needs in the coming year,” the members said in a letter to Blagojevich and the four leaders. “Consequently, we would request that you continue to work for a realistic budget that both provides for the additional necessary investments as well as raising the additional revenue needed to assure that they are fully funded.”
Madigan has called the House-approved budget a “high water mark” for state spending. He made that statement based on the fact that Republican votes are now needed to pass a budget in the House, and Cross has repeatedly said the GOP wants to keep a lid on government spending.
Adriana Colindres of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.