Despite not passing 2016 budget, Democrats advance 2017’s budget

Robin Opsahl, City Editor

The Illinois House of Representatives passed a state budget for next fiscal year late Wednesday, despite not passing the budget for 2016 and heavy criticism from Republicans.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 passed the House 63-53. It allocates $14.1 billion in general funds spending starting July 1 of this year. However, the proposed budget did not factor in automatic spending for pensions and debt payments, as well as back spending for court-mandated social services because that would have placed the proposal $7.2 billion over budget, according to criticisms by House Republicans.

The budget passed 55-2 in the Illinois Senate on May 5 and now goes back to the Senate where it awaits a review of amendments before moving to the governor’s office. However, Gov. Bruce Rauner reiterated in a statement Sunday that he is not willing to sign an unbalanced budget into law.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) was one of seven Democrats to vote against the bill. She said in a statement to press that she voted against the bill because she did believed the state could not afford the proposed allocations, and that passing it through without bipartisan support would not be productive.

“My vote was not a vote against social services, organized labor or essential programs — things I have forcefully advocated on behalf of the entire time I’ve been in the General Assembly,” Cassidy said. “It was a vote against doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

On Thursday morning, the bill was put to a re-vote where it passed again in a 60-53 vote, missing three supporters from the night before because they had been absent. No House Republicans voted in favor of the bill on either vote.

House Republican Leader Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said the proposed budget was the “biggest joke” he had seen in his 18 years in office.

“This is a slap in the face to the hard work of the men and women who’ve been working hard on this, but more importantly a slap in the face to every Illinoisan who wants transparent government,” Durkin said during the budget discussions. “This is a repeat of last year on steroids.”

However, House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said lawmakers have a duty to not repeat the failures of last year. The proposal was an attempt to move forward from their current standstill, she said.

Earlier in the year, Illinois legislators passed $600 million in emergency funding for public higher education. However, no social services have received state payments during the budget crisis, which resulted in a coalition of social services suing Rauner and his administration for unpaid contracts in early May.

“It is unconscionable this state has failed to do its job during the current fiscal year,” Currie said during budget discussions. “It would be even more unconscionable for us to leave this assembly without taking care of our responsibilities for the fiscal year to come.”

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