By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois General Assembly approved a $40 billion fiscal year 2020 state operating budget Friday night, pushing further action on a host of other issues to an impromptu Saturday morning session and perhaps beyond.
The legislative leaders of each chamber had several meetings with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker throughout the day as House Republicans withheld their votes while seeking concessions from Democrats.
At 1 p.m., Deputy House Minority Leader Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, released a statement saying Democrats “withheld information, added additional taxes and rejected any attempts to grow our economy.”
By 9:45 p.m., Demmer was speaking on the floor about the balanced budget proposal that was a product of compromise. A flurry of closed-door meetings filled the eight hours in between.
While only three speakers from each party were allowed to address the matter on the floor per an agreement between House leaders, discussion lasted about 20 minutes and the vote passed 83-35.
House Majority Leader Gregory Harris, a Chicago Democrat, extolled the budget as one that funds higher education and K-12 schools while making full pension payments and contributing $1.4 billion to paying down part of the state’s backlog of unpaid bills.
He said $1.2 billion to the backlog payments would be funded by bond borrowing and another $200 million would be funded by an anticipated budget surplus. He said paying down debts will save 12 percent daily interest on some of the oldest bills, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run.
Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, called the budget “a start” to progress in Illinois that is “fair” to taxpayers and businesses.
“Because we worked together and we made some concessions, both sides tonight, we’re able to say that we have a balanced budget for this FY 20 year,” he said.
Durkin said several business-centric measures requested by Republicans are expected to be approved Saturday.
Business-backed measures released with Demmer’s afternoon statement include tax incentives aimed at enticing data centers to locate in Illinois; eliminate reporting of the retailer's discount in the comptroller's tax expenditure report; eliminating the franchise tax; reinstating the manufacturers purchase credit; and a “Blue Collar Jobs Act to help attract large scale projects.”
Republican Rep. David McSweeney, however, said he was not happy with the limited debate and the contents of the budget bill, calling Durkin a “failed leader” that is “in bed with the Democrats.”
“Republicans and Democrats got together in a closed room and put together a budget that is at least $1 billion over what the governor himself requested,” he said. “There's no provision for controlling spending. There's no pension reform. There's no Medicaid reform. There's actually no reduction in spending.”
McSweeney said few if any lawmakers had time to read the 1,581 pages in the appropriations bill which was only released at noon, less than 10 hours before it was passed.
The General Revenue Fund spending in the fiscal year 2020 budget is estimated at $39.9 billion. An added $600 million in supplemental spending for fiscal year 2019, most of which will go to paying backpay for step increases to state employee salaries that former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner withheld, would bring the total to about $40.6 billion.
The budget includes $375 million in added state funding for K-12 education, $25 million more than is mandated by the state’s evidence-based funding formula. It also increases mandated categorical funding for K-12 education by $47.3 million, bringing expenditures in that area to $928.8 million.
Funding for early childhood education would increase by $50 million, up to $543.7 million.
Higher education will see an increase by $134 million over fiscal year 2019 levels, increasing to $1.94 billion. The increase would include $50 million more than last year for Monetary Award Grant funding and 5 percent increases to state university and college operations.
The Department of Human Services, the Department on Aging, and the Department of Children and Family Services would all see rate increases to cover the state’s increase to the minimum wage. Overall, human service departments would see an increase of $567 million from last year’s budget.
General revenue funding for DCFS would increase by $89 million from fiscal year 2019, bringing the total up to $845 million.
Harris said the budget also includes funding for a census grant program which will allow the state to gain more funding from the federal government by maximizing the number of citizens counted in the census.
He also said funding is added for the senior-based community care program, nursing homes and scholarships for veterans.
The measure appropriating the funding is Senate Bill 262. The Senate passed the measure 40-19 on a partisan roll call after the midnight deadline. Because it had three-fifths majorities in each chamber, it can take effect when the new fiscal year starts on July 2021.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Senate shifted the sponsorship of several bills and introduced new legislation to remove cost of living pay increases to legislators which had been included in previous bills. Because of this action, a 2.4 percent increase in funding for legislators was removed, per the conversation on the Senate floor.
Several other budget bills providing for revenue, increased issuing of bonds and budget implementation were passed by the Senate late Friday and will have to pass the House for the budget to be fully implemented.
A $45 billion capital plan, a capital funding bill and a gambling expansion package were scheduled to be discussed Saturday morning when the House reconvenes at 10 a.m. and the Senate takes up matters at an undecided date.