Democrats miss self-imposed budget deadline

Saturday, May 8, 2010

SPRINGFIELD - Democratic legislative leaders missed their self-imposed deadline for passing a new budget Friday and sent lawmakers home until they can figure out a solution to the state's $13 billion deficit.
"Our business is not finished," House Speaker Michael Madigan told lawmakers before adjournment. "When we are prepared to finish our business we will come back to Springfield for one or two days."
The Chicago Democrat gave no indication of when that might happen. With lawmakers opposed to raising taxes, slashing spending or borrowing money to fill the massive budget hole, finding a solution may take time. Election-year politics won't make the job any easier.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) sent the Senate home soon after the House adjourned.
Gov. Pat Quinn spent hours Friday talking to House Democrats in an attempt to build consensus on the budget, but he emerged without a breakthrough. Quinn did not speak to reporters after legislative leaders decided to give up and go home.
While Madigan and Cullerton had aimed for a May 7 conclusion to the spring legislative session, that date has no special significance.
The first key date is May 31. After that, passing a budget would require a super-majority, meaning the Democratic majority would need some Republican votes to take action.
The most important date for passing a new budget is June 30, when the current budget expires.
The decision to adjourn temporarily came after the House voted down a proposal to borrow $3.7 billion so the state could make its required payment to troubled government pension systems. That obligation is one of the biggest holes in the budget.
When the borrowing plan failed, Madigan tried to make a point by introducing legislation that would cut spending by $4 billion. If you won't raise taxes and you won't borrow money, Madigan told lawmakers, then you should face the reality of cutting billions to make room for the pension payment.
The cuts got a total of 15 votes. Ninety-nine people voted "no."
"We proposed a couple of different ideas today on the House floor. Both failed, and I guess people had to go back to the drawing board," said Rep. Lou Lang, of Skokie, a member of Democratic leadership. "We still have plenty of time under the constitution."
The Senate has passed a version of the budget that would address the deficit almost entirely by borrowing money or delaying payment of the state's many bills.
That budget plan would delay the $3.7 billion pension contribution, as well as payment of roughly $6 billion the state owes to people and businesses.
Quinn would be allowed to dip into special-purpose funds and spend about $1 billion on routine government operations. He also would be given huge lump sums and allowed to choose which programs get the money and which don't.
The House balked at going along with that version of the budget but could not agree on any alternatives.
Republicans have been shut out of the budget process by Democrats and in return refuse to support any Democratic proposals.
Quinn attributed that to political obstructionism meant to help his GOP opponent in November's election, Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.
"Sen. Brady wants to run around and cause chaos and tear down Illinois," Quinn said. "Sen. Brady is vying for No. 1 naysayer in Illinois. Naysayers don't get things done."
Democrats noted Brady could have introduced legislation explaining exactly where spending should be cut to balance the budget. Instead, he has called for a general 10 percent reduction - which still wouldn't be enough to erase the deficit.
Brady embraced the idea that he helped block Democratic budget proposals.
"I will take credit for not digging a deeper hole," he said. "Enough is enough. It's time to tell the Democrats learn to live within your means."