Illinois Senate Prepares for July 4 Votes on First Budget in More Than Two Years

By Quint Forgey Features Dow Jones Newswires

The leader of Illinois's Senate confirmed the chamber will vote Tuesday on Democratic revenue and spending measures that could become the state's first budget in more than two years.

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The bills, which cleared the House on Sunday, fund a more than $36 billion spending plan with a roughly $5 billion income tax increase. The state brings in roughly $32 billion a year.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened to veto the tax increase in the budget package, but Democrats, with some help from Republicans, might be able to override the veto.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said Monday it would be difficult to pass the tax increase without some Republican support, even though his party holds a supermajority in the chamber.

Illinois entered its third fiscal year without a budget on July 1. The state's record-breaking impasse, which has racked up $14.6 billion in unpaid bills, is the result of a political standoff between Mr. Rauner, elected in November 2014, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has held the office for more than three decades.

Two Wall Street bond houses Monday lauded the General Assembly's progress in passing a budget out of the House Sunday, but warned the state's credit rating is still precariously close to junk status.

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Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, Mr. Madigan's top lieutenant in budget negotiations, authored the bills now before the Senate.

The revenue bill, the more contentious piece of the budget, increases the state's personal income-tax rate from 3.75% to 4.95% and the corporate income-tax rate from 5.25% to 7%. The spending bill includes a 5% cut to government agencies and reduces state higher education funding by 10%.

The proposed revenue measure is largely in line with a similar Republican plan to raise state funds, but Mr. Rauner favors only a temporary increase in income taxes -- not the permanent hike outlined in the legislature's plan. He is also seeking concessions including a property tax freeze and a revamp of the state's worker compensation system.

Mr. Rauner released a video via Twitter Monday repeating his threat from the day before to veto the tax increase if it gains approval from the Senate. Mr. Madigan said Monday he would fight to override the governor's veto in the House if the governor follows through on that pledge.

The tax increase earned 72 votes in the House Sunday, surpassing the 3/5ths-majority threshold necessary to reverse a veto. Mr. Cullerton would need 36 votes to override a gubernatorial veto in the Senate, and there are 37 Democrats in that chamber.

Mr. Cullerton and Mr. Madigan emerged from a meeting Monday afternoon saying Republican minority leaders from both chambers did not appear at the day's negotiations. Fifteen Republicans voted to support the tax increase in the House Sunday.

One of those Republicans, Assistant House Minority Leader Chad Hays, announced Monday he will not seek re-election.

"The functionality of the Illinois General Assembly today is simply untenable and counterproductive," Mr. Hays said. "Legislators who care deeply and have the courage of their convictions and the intestinal fortitude to do what is right regardless of consequences are increasingly silenced. I believe we are in serious jeopardy of independent thought being a relic in our public discourse."

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 03, 2017 19:29 ET (23:29 GMT)