House Dem files ‘lifeline’ bill for social services, higher ed

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SPRINGFIELD — With the clock winding down on the lame-duck legislative session, both the Illinois House and Senate appear to be on different pages when it comes to solving the state’s budget mess.

As Senate leaders from both parties held behind-the scenes budget negotiations Monday, a key House Democrat filed his own party-backed spending proposal to fund social services and higher education.

Both the House and Senate are in session this week for the-lame duck session, with the odds of either side coming together to approve a budget looking slim. Even if the Senate adopts a budget plan — something that looked possible Monday — there’s no time to push it to the House and on to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature.

Senate leaders acknowledge their late push is a means to lay out a framework for the next session.

The new General Assembly will be sworn in on Wednesday, with the winners of November election contests taking their seats.

The state has limped along since the middle of 2015 without an annual spending plan because Rauner, a wealthy businessman, insists on a package of regulatory changes to help business and curb union power, a local property tax freeze and limits on politicians’ power and longevity. Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, have refused to negotiate anything but dollars and cents in terms of the budget.

In the House on Monday, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, filed a proposal that would give social-services programs $258 million and higher-education programs $400 million. That money would include a full semester for MAP grants for all colleges, universities and community colleges, as well as funds for adult, vocational education and GED programs, according to Harris.

The money would come from two funds — the human-service fund and the educational-assistance fund. Both are fed from income taxes and would be available to spend within the first six months of the year.

“It’s a lifeline. As you remember, all the appropriations for social services and higher education ran out on the first of January, so you have schools trying to figure out how to stay open and you have MAP grant recipients trying to figure out if they can actually go to school — or if their school will be funded for the whole year,” Harris said. “Social service agencies are literally deciding whether to shut their doors, so this proposal would be a lifeline to them as the larger negotiations go on.”

Meanwhile, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, have been meeting and negotiating a compromise budget package, that includes enacting term limits on legislative leaders; hiking the income tax to 4.9 percent; adding a statewide beverage tax on sugary drinks; a two-year property tax freeze, as well as changes in workers’ compensation and pension reform, according to several legislative sources.

Cullerton and Rauner both favor a “consideration” model, which, for example, would sweeten employee health benefits in return for a limit on how much future pay raises would be pensionable.

A package of 10 Senate bills came out of assignments on Monday, including a 2017 budget, procurement, revenue, CPS parity, local government consolidation, special purpose entities, gaming, payment of old bills, minimum wage and pension reform.

A property tax bill as part of the Senate package has yet to be filed.

House Democrats introduced an amendment to a Senate bill which would permanently freeze property taxes.

Speaking at a law-enforcement appreciation breakfast in Springfield, Rauner on Monday morning was asked whether he and Madigan were being “cut out” of the budget talks.

Rauner laughed. “I don’t need to be in the middle of everything,” adding he’s hoping the bipartisan talks will produce a budget with reforms, with or without him.

“I’m happy to be in whatever meetings are going on, and I’m happy to stay out of it,” Rauner said. “Whatever gets the job done.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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House Dem files ‘lifeline’ bill for social services, higher ed

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