As new fiscal year dawns, hope for Illinois budget dims



By Dave McKinney

CHICAGO Risking a historic drop to junk bond status, Illinois began its third straight fiscal year without a budget on Saturday as political maneuvering dimmed hopes for a bipartisan spending and revenue package anytime soon.

While the House scheduled session on Sunday to take up a revenue package, the Senate is not slated to return until Monday.

The nation’s fifth-largest state has lacked a full operating budget since July 2015 and is under a warning from S&P that it will drop Illinois’ creditworthiness to the lowest of any state in history if it fails to pass a fiscal 2018 budget that starts to address a chronic structural deficit.

Talks between Democrats who control the Illinois House and Republicans had shown signs of progress as both sides rallied behind a $36.5 billion spending blueprint on Friday and were poised to build on that positive movement in a rare Fourth of July holiday weekend legislative session.

Instead, tensions broke out on the House floor between House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who initially informed the legislative chamber that no budget votes would be taken on Sunday.

“Saying we’ll gavel out and return at some point [Sunday] to me does not send a message to Illinoisans that we’re prepared to bring this to resolution any time soon,” said Durkin, the Republican Party’s legislative proxy for Governor Bruce Rauner, who has stayed on the sidelines of recent budget negotiations.

Madigan walked off the floor a short time later to the shout of “Speaker Junk” from State Representative Grant Wehrli, a suburban Chicago Republican.

By late afternoon, Madigan reversed course and said there indeed would be a vote on a tax-increase package Sunday, neglecting any mention of accompanying votes on a local property tax freeze or workers compensation reforms that are two of Rauner’s key demands under negotiation.

In a statement, Madigan said he was “encouraged by the progress” in talks with Durkin and vowed to vote Sunday on a revenue package “modeled on the bill supported by the governor and House and Senate Republicans.”

Durkin made clear in his own statement that “there is no agreement on a comprehensive budget package that includes reforms and revenue,” contradicting Madigan and painting a dim outlook for bipartisan consensus on Sunday.

“This impasse can only be resolved in a negotiated manner,” Durkin said. “It is our hope that Democrats will remain at the negotiating table.”

(Additional reporting By Karen Pierog; Editing by Marguerita Choy)


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