SPRINGFIELD — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner used his annual budget address Wednesday to put two choices before legislative Democrats who control both houses of the state legislature:
The General Assembly can grant him, the state’s chief executive, the authority to make the cuts that will allow Illinois to spend what it’s bringing in, about $32.8 billion.
Or, Rauner said, lawmakers can agree to some of what he considers essential economic and political reforms and he’ll work with them on a combination of revenue increases and spending reductions for a total budget of about $36.3 billion.
“You choose. But, please, choose now,” Rauner told lawmakers in his second budget address.
The governor also asked lawmakers to promptly send through legislation to fund primary and secondary education for fiscal year 2017 at $393 million, up $75 million and the highest amount in state history.
Democratic leaders largely answered the governor was bringing nothing new to the table to address the overall budget quagmire, which includes the state still spending billions in the red even without a budget more than seven months into fiscal 2016.
In short, if not engaged in outright battles, the warring factions in Springfield appeared to remain at least dug into their trenches.
“Democrats won’t support enough spending cuts to live within our current revenues, and you won’t vote to raise taxes to cover your deficit spending unless Republicans agree to support your tax hike,” Rauner said in his speech.
“I won’t support new revenue unless we have major structural reforms to grow more jobs and get more value for taxpayers. I’m insisting that we attack the root causes of our dismal economic performance. Those are the dynamics,” he said.
“That leaves us with only two choices: either you give the executive branch the authority to cut spending to live within our revenues. Or, we agree, together, on economic and governmental reforms, to accompany a negotiated balance of spending reductions and revenue, which ensures that Illinois can be both compassionate and competitive.
Democrats said there was, at core, some nice language about working together in the governor’s speech but no real changes in position.
While applauding the governor’s concern for primary and secondary education funding, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, also said the state’s system of distributing funds to school districts needs to be completely reworked.
“The governor can be a vital ally in resolving what’s become the defining crisis of our time,” Cullerton said in statement. “But reform won’t come by simply throwing more money at the existing system. We need a complete overhaul.”
Otherwise, Cullerton panned the governor’s speech.
With “all due respect to the governor, his budget speeches don’t help Illinois,” Cullerton said. “At this point, the courts are running more of the state than our governor. It’s going to require real plans and real action on his part to resolve the impasse he created. I want to work with him to find practical solutions to our problems because nothing Gov. Rauner did in his first year worked for anyone.”
Democratic Speaker of the House Michael Madigan of Chicago continued to criticize the second-year governor and his agenda.
Addressing a question on whether there isn’t room for negotiation with Rauner, Madigan said, “The answer is that’s possible where people are being reasonable, where their focus is on the budget deficit problem and not some extreme right agenda which is based in extreme right economic theory that thinks the government ought to be used to drive down the standard of living.”
Said Cullerton in his own news conference, “The speaker and I have been consistent. We are willing to talk to him about cuts, revenues or a combination thereof. He doesn’t seem to be focused on doing that. Instead he’s asking for a ‘turnaround agenda’ that really has nothing to do with the state budget.”
Rauner said “nothing could be further from the truth” than the argument his agenda is disconnected from the budget.
“Workers’ compensation reform and lawsuit reform. Mandate relief, consolidation, local control of bargaining and bidding to drive down property taxes. These reforms will provide many billions of dollars every year in government cost savings,” Rauner said.
“But even more critically, they’ll help our economy grow faster by rebuilding job creators’ confidence in our state. More businesses, more jobs, more people working and paying taxes.”
Illinois began fiscal year 2016 last June 1 without a budget and remains without one.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network.