Illinois Lawmakers Work Through Weekend on Budget

By Quint Forgey Features Dow Jones Newswires

Illinois lawmakers continued to work on a budget compromise on Saturday, the first day of its third fiscal year without a balanced spending plan.

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During its record-breaking fiscal impasse, the state has racked up $14.6 billion in unpaid bills, and bond houses are warning the state's credit rating could be downgraded to junk status.

A federal judge Friday found Illinois non-compliant with its Medicaid payments, ruling the state must pay $293 million a month and $1 billion over the next year to help mitigate the $3 billion it owes to health-care providers.

The logjam is the result of a political standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, elected in 2015, and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has held the office for more than three decades.

Gov. Rauner called a 10-day special session to solve the budget crisis before the start of the fiscal year on July 1. But the governor and lawmakers were unable to broker a deal before midnight Friday, leaving the General Assembly working overtime.

Mr. Madigan said Saturday on the House floor that members will convene again Sunday, but no budget bills will be called before Monday. He said chief negotiators for state appropriations, revenue and workers' compensation issues will work through the weekend.

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The announcement drew a rebuke from House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, who rallied his Republican colleagues Friday in support of a Democratic spending plan backed by Mr. Madigan.

"We had great momentum yesterday in this chamber," Mr. Durkin said on the House floor. "Saying that we're done today, come back tomorrow...to me, it speaks for itself."

"You know because you're part of the negotiations that there will be no bills to call tomorrow. You know that," Mr. Madigan replied.

Mr. Durkin's remarks prompted a standing ovation from House Republicans and many Democrats. As Mr. Madigan exited the chamber, one lawmaker shouted, "Speaker Junk!"

The outburst was an apparent reference to a digital ad from the Illinois Republican Party that identified the speaker as "Junk Madigan" because of the state's credit-downgrade risk. The party pulled the ad Friday after a House compromise vote in support of Democratic Rep. Greg Harris's $36.5 billion spending plan, which includes a 5% cut to government agency funding. Mr. Harris is one of Mr. Madigan's top lieutenants in budget negotiations.

The tense House floor action marked a departure from cordial proceedings the day before, when Mr. Durkin said, "We are so close I can taste it." That public optimism has since dissipated.

Also Saturday, the legislature voted to override the governor's veto of telephone fee increases included in a bill to fund emergency call centers.

The measure increased the monthly 911 telephone surcharge to $5 from $3.90 in Chicago and hiked the rate to $1.50 from 87 cents across the rest of the state. Gov. Rauner struck the fee increases from the bill.

"This override is a signal of what we should be doing next, which is voting on a fully funded budget for the state of Illinois," said Democratic Rep. Carol Ammons.

Write to Quint Forgey at quint.forgey@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 01, 2017 16:49 ET (20:49 GMT)