SPRINGFIELD — Senate Democrats on Tuesday passed a measure that ties together property tax freezes, a rewrite of the state’s school aid formula and aid for the Chicago Public Schools pension system.
Senate Bill 318, supported by Senate Democrats including President John Cullerton, passed on a vote of 37 to 1, with 18 members voting present.
The bill does several things, including:
- Establishes a two-year local property tax freeze (2016 and 2017 outside of Cook County, 2017 and 2018 in Cook County).
- Has the state pick up a roughly $200 million pension payment for the Chicago Public Schools system.
- Changes the pension payment schedule or “ramp” for Chicago Public Schools.
- Ends the state’s general aid formula for schools by June 1, 2017. It would be replaced by a new one still to come.
The GOP, led by Gov. Bruce Rauner, does not support the bill as presented, as it lacks what Rauner calls cost-reduction controls for local units of government.
Those include local-government options for reductions in items that may be collectively bargained, as well as opt-outs from the Prevailing Wage Act for local bodies.
Democrats have fought those measures, calling them detrimental to the middle-class and public employees.
Sen. Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said while she appreciated the Senate president’s efforts to work with Gov. Rauner and Chicago officials, “I don’t think this is soup yet. I would certainly urge everyone to vote ‘present’ on this bill until we get a more comprehensive agreement.”
A companion measure, Senate Bill 2039, would provide an additional $74 million for needy school districts. It passed on a vote of 49-7, with several Republicans joining Democrats in support.
The measures now go to the House, where it might have a difficult time. House Democrats, to date, have shown only mixed support for similar proposals.
Senate Democrats also passed Senate Bill 162, sponsored by State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, and which would make changes to the state’s workers compensation system.
Raoul said the legislation strengthens reforms put in place in 2011, takes into account several items suggested by Rauner, and makes changes to modernize the systems reporting and record-keeping.
Republicans said the bill was not truly a compromise and amounted to “a list of nothings” that wouldn’t lower workers comp premiums for employers.
Raoul fired back, saying, “A lot of this proposals come, quite frankly, from the governor,” and he suggested Republicans, “Go tell him.”
The bill passed on a vote of 36-19.
On a largely partisan vote, the senators also passed Senate Bill 317, a measure by Democratic Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill that seeks to pressure the Rauner administration to keep the state museum system open.
Manar said the bill says the state “shall” operate the museum system, and he compared its contents to the language that says the state will operate state fairs in Springfield and Du Quoin.
The measure applies to the state’s flagship museum in Springfield, as well as museums, cultural centers and galleries at Dickson Mounds, Rend Lake, Lockport and Chicago.
The bill passed on a vote of 40-9 with five senators voting present. It now proceeds to the House.
The governor’s office says the bill doesn’t provide funding for the museums and wouldn’t change plans for the closures.
The closures were among about $820 million in projected cost-savings measures announced by the governor’s office in light of the lack of a budget agreement for the current fiscal year.
A hearing on the museum closures, as well as the closure of the Hardin County Work Camp, is scheduled for Wednesday morning before the Commission on Government Accountability and Forecasting.
Also because of the lack of a state budget, Illinois state agencies have begun issuing layoff notices.
The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees on Tuesday announced it had received notices involving 94 state employees in the following departments. The departments and number of positions listed were: Natural Resources, 54; Commerce Commission, 24: Commerce and Economic Opportunity, 9; and Emergency Management Agency, 7.
More than a month into the new fiscal year, Illinois still lacks a budget as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats remain at a philosophical and political impasse.
Rauner and the GOP say the Democrats’ $36 billion spending plan, about $3 billion to $4 billion short on revenue, proves Democrats want to raise taxes and continue a tax-and-spend habit that has put the state in perpetual financial crisis.
Democrats say they’re willing to discuss the numbers further, but Rauner is holding the annual budget hostage for what they consider non-budgetary demands and an imbalanced business-friendly agenda they argue will hurt working Illinoisans.
The state Senate on Tuesday also passed a measure to release nearly $5 billion in federal funds that would have been tied up without specific action given the budget impasse. The governor’s office supports that bill.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.