Senate Democrats send budget to House, teeing it up for early Saturday morning vote

Senate Democrats send budget to House, teeing it up for early Saturday morning vote

By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
jnowicki@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House is planning to work until the early hours of Saturday morning to finalize a $50.6 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

That announcement came early Thursday evening, more than 24 hours after Gov. JB Pritzker and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly announced an agreement on a budget framework. And it came just hours before the Senate voted 34-22, largely on partisan lines, to approve the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.

The discussion in a Senate committee earlier Thursday was at times laudatory as Republicans thanked Democrats for their inclusion in the budget process. Praise was especially strong for Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who sponsored the budget and had nearly lost his voice by the time it came for a vote due to the long hours of negotiating. 

But Republicans ultimately unanimously voted against the spending plan despite GOP lawmakers acknowledging their support for some of its components. Sims, in turn, gave a fiery defense of the plan after Republicans lobbed criticisms in floor debate.

“This budget does reflect our priorities,” Sims said. “It reflects our shared priorities to move our state forward. It reflects our ability to invest in communities. What you call expenditures, we call investments, what you call overspending, we call building up.”

In his first year leading the superminority caucus, Senate Republican Leader John Curran, of Downers Grove, said the inclusion of Republicans in negotiations was “a step forward in our working relationships across the aisle for the betterment of the people of Illinois.” But in the end, he said he rejected the budget as an expansion of government.

“A few Senate Republican priorities – really some joint priorities – are reflected in this budget,” Curran said. “However, what matters to the people of Illinois not the process, but the product. As you will see by the uniform ‘no’ votes from our caucus, this final product does not reflect the entire state of Illinois.”

Members of his party cited Democrats’ choice to not address the January 2024 expiration of a $75 million annual state tax credit program that funds private school scholarships, along with inaction on requested changes to the state’s strictest-in-the-nation biometric privacy law as a sticking point in negotiations. That law has been the basis of dozens of costly lawsuits for businesses that unknowingly violate it.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said he was disappointed Republicans had apparently decided “nonbudget” matters precluded a unanimous vote. But he said Democrats would continue to work with the minority party in future budget years.

The budget – contained amendments to Senate Bill 250 and House Bill 3817 spanning more than 4,000 pages – was filed and passed in short order Thursday evening after a frenzied two days of final negotiations.

The House can’t move on the bill until Saturday, due to a constitutional requirement that a bill be read on the floor on three separate days before it can receive a vote. The House’s plan was to work into the early hours of Saturday rather than return to Springfield next week.

That agreement was hammered out during House Democrats’ roughly four-hour caucus meeting Thursday afternoon, which concluded at about the same time the budget amendments were filed.

If all goes according to that plan, the chambers will have approved a spending plan that’s substantially similar to the one Pritzker proposed in February – only with about $1 billion in additional spending. That’s despite April revenues plummeting more than $1.8 billion from one year ago.

Pritzker’s office has pointed to the conservative nature of his office’s original revenue estimates as the reason he and lawmakers had the flexibility to craft the budget that was filed Thursday. The $50.7 billion in revenue expected for the upcoming fiscal year would be roughly level with the current year’s projected revenue numbers.

“This budget makes transformative investments in the children and families of Illinois while building on our record of fiscal responsibility,” Pritzker said in a statement. “I look forward to the House taking up this budget that will make child care and education more accessible, healthcare more affordable, and our state’s business and economic position even stronger.”  

One major Pritzker priority funded fully in the Senate-approved budget is “Smart Start Illinois,” a multi-year plan that aims to make childcare and preschool available to every three- and four-year-old whose family wants those services. For the upcoming fiscal year, that includes $250 million to increase the number of preschool slots available, stabilize the early childhood workforce and expand the early intervention and home visiting programs.

The budget plan also includes $100 million in general revenue funds to pay for capital improvements at early childhood learning facilities – the same amount proposed in February but $50 more than what the governor’s office announced earlier in the week.

“Home Illinois,” the governor’s plan to fight homelessness, is set to receive more than $350 million, an $85 million increase from the current fiscal year. It would go to support homelessness prevention, affordable housing, outreach and other programs aimed at reducing homelessness.

Next year’s budget also includes a $100 million increase in funding for public universities and community colleges, along with a $100 million increase in Monetary Award Program financial aid grants. Pritzker has said that will effectively make a two-year community college education available tuition- and fee-free for every working-class student in Illinois when combined with federal grants.

One major point of contention among both Republicans and Democrats during the budget-making process was a rapidly growing program that provides Medicaid-style health care coverage for noncitizens aged 42 and older who would be eligible for Medicaid if not for their citizenship status. The program is new as of 2021, and Democrats have now twice expanded eligibility from the original 65 and over population. Illinois’ AllKids program has long allowed for noncitizen minors to receive health care.

Pritzker’s office earlier this month estimated the program’s cost would grow to $1.1 billion during the next fiscal year, but it now predicts it can cap spending at $550 million. His office claims it can do so with new emergency rulemaking authority granted in a Medicaid-related proposal that was also moving through the General Assembly this week.

Sen. Win Stoller, R-East Peoria, said the difference between those estimates gave him reason to doubt the budget was balanced. Another was that the proposal doesn’t account for enough of a spending increase for state worker wages that will grow amid budget negotiations this year.

Pritzker’s office said his options for capping spending on noncitizen health care include limiting future enrollment in the program, requiring copays from program participants, maximizing federal reimbursement and a possibly moving participants to the Medicaid managed care system. 

The Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus had pushed to expand the program to cover adults aged 19 to 41 and to allow it to grow without a spending cap. The expansion to younger noncitizens wasn’t included in the final budget.

“If there are caps, it is on behalf of the governor, it is not on behalf of the legislators,” Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, said in an interview. “My push is always to make sure that we’re protecting our communities so that we’re doing as much as we can to help serve those immigrant communities that are also taxpayers.”

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, the Senate Republican caucus’ top budgeteer, cited the noncitizen health care program spending as the reason he ultimately didn’t vote for the budget. He said the spending increase it forced could have funded the continuation of the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program or greater increases for providers who care for people with disabilities among other priorities.

The $75 million Invest in Kids scholarship was established as part of Illinois’ 2017 overhaul of how the state funds public education. It was a priority of Republican then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a vocal proponent of so-called school choice and frequent critic of public schools. The budget did not extend the program beyond its built-in sunset date of Jan. 1, 2024. 

“I’m not standing here yelling and screaming,” Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said in a nod to the amicable negotiation process. “I am saying there’s a fundamental difference but eventually we have to figure this out. Those kids are too important. We can’t leave them stranded.”

Providers for individuals with developmental disabilities who live in community facilities would see a $2.50 hourly rate increase. Pritzker in February had proposed upping the state’s current $17 hourly rate for direct service professionals by $1.50 in his budget proposal. Providers had originally requested a $4 increase in accordance with a state-funded rate study that showed that amount was needed to provide adequate care.

The plan also includes a $350 million increase to the K-12 education funding formula to fulfill statutory obligations and a $200 million pension payment beyond what is required by law.

Lawmaker pay would also increase by 5.5 percent in the budget, a rate tied to the federal government’s Employment Cost Index that raises lawmaker pay annually as a function of state law. That would bring their base salary to $89,675 annually, in addition to any committee and leadership stipends. Democrats had already pushed a pay bump to $85,000 annually during January’s “lame duck” session.

Local governments, meanwhile, would see a roughly $85 million funding increase for the upcoming fiscal year as their cut of the state income tax is increased to 6.47 percent.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association. 

 

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