Veto session likely last chance this year for Assembly to break budget impasse
The Illinois General Assembly recently reconvened for its annual veto session that gives the legislature an opportunity to review and overturn the governor's vetoes from the spring session.
Gov. Bruce Rauner called a full meeting of the state House and Senate leadership prior to the veto session, but only the GOP leaders showed up. House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) said he had a conflict and did not attend.
After the meeting with Rauner, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said the legislators needed to work on a full budget.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) blasted the Democrats for not meeting with the governor and said it's time to get to work.
With the clock ticking on the temporary "stopgap" budget passed in late June, Republican leaders are urging their Democratic colleagues to stay focused on the state budget. The stopgap budget expires on Dec. 31.
Illinois has faced a budget impasse since 2015, when Rauner vetoed 19 of the 20 budget bills passed by the legislature. He signed the education bill, which ensured that K-12 schools would be funded for the 2015-2016 school year.
Illinois continued through 2015 without a state budget. Rauner pushed for his "Turnaround Agenda," which would have implemented structural, pension and workers' compensation reforms. But Madigan opposed Rauner's reforms and stood firm in his determination to prevent any changes to the budget or legislature. While some of the state's bills were paid by court orders, consent decrees and past appropriations, the existing unpaid bill backlog grew larger.
The budget impasse continued into 2016. While the struggle over the budget festered, State Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger ordered her staff to place the lawmakers' paychecks with the unpaid state vendors' bills. Vendors have been waiting for months for payment, which generated threats to turn off the power at the Capitol in Springfield. Legislators joined the queue of people waiting for payments from the state.
In late May, Madigan introduced and the House passed an all-in-one budget despite being $7 billion in the red, but the Senate defeated it. The Senate presented its education budget to the House, where it was voted down. The legislature adjourned, leaving the state without a budget for the second year in a row. This time, however, lawmakers failed to pass an education budget and left school districts with limited funds, unable to guarantee that they would open in the fall.
After the unbalanced budget bill failed, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Illinois' credit rating to Baa2, only two levels above junk-bond status. S&P Global Ratings also downgraded Illinois' credit, from A- to BBB+. The lowered credit ratings will cost the state millions in higher interest payments.
A flurry of activity ensued in late June, and the legislators met in a special session to pass the stopgap budget. While the budget funded K-12 and higher education, prisons, road projects, and other essential services until the end of the year, it was not a full budget. Although the Senate had voted down Madigan's unbalanced budget, the stopgap budget was passed in spite of being $8 billion in the red.
With the November general election over, the legislature must again face the need for a balanced state budget. The unpaid-bill backlog is on track to reach $14 billion; and Munger said if the unpaid bills are not addressed, taxpayers could face income tax hikes of 8 percent or more to pay the state's bills.
The legislature is scheduled to meet the week after Thanksgiving. If the budget is not addressed during the veto session and lawmakers don't convene a special budget session, the state again will begin a new year without a budget.