Gov. Bruce Rauner urged Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday to unite and pass a balanced budget that will fund Illinois and get it back on its feet.
“Right now, our state is in real crisis, and the actions we take in the days ahead will determine how history remembers us," Rauner said. "We can all do better. We must all do better for the citizens of Illinois. We’ve asked the General Assembly to come together in a special session for the next 10 days, not as Democrats and Republicans but as leaders who share bipartisan concern for our state’s future.”
Lawmakers are heading into a special legislative session on Wednesday to work on a budget before the fiscal year ends on June 30. The spring session ended without a budget on May 31. Without a budget, the General Assembly held a continuous session through June. Rauner called for the special session on June 15 to sort out the budget.
“We must agree on a balanced budget plan and get it to my desk before the end of the state’s fiscal year – one week from Friday,” Rauner said.
The state is nearing 700 days without a budget, which has had severe effects on some of its most vital services.
Illinois currently has $15 billion in unpaid bills, a running deficit of $6 billion and an estimated $130 billion in pension debt.
During the regular session, Senate Democrats passed a plan to generate $5.4 billion through an income tax hike and other taxes to fund a $37.3 billion budget plan. Republicans opposed the plan.
Republican lawmakers recently presented a package of proposals that address funding and include a version of a balanced budget as well as reforms on key issues. Rauner has said he would sign the package if it passes the General Assembly.
The Republican plan introduced would raise $5 billion in taxes to pay overdue bills and fund services, while imposing a hard spending cap of $36 billion. The plan also includes a four-year property tax freeze.
“It moves us to middle ground on key issues,” Rauner said. “It is truly balanced. It funds schools, higher education and human services. It provides a real path to property tax reduction. The plan also stands tall for fundamentals. Spending reductions. Limits on expenses. Debt reduction. And term limits on legislative leaders and statewide officeholders, including the governor.”
However, John Tillman, CEO of Illinois Policy Institute, called the compromises too much in favor of lawmakers.
“While this was done in the spirit of compromise, it is a mistake,” Tillman said. “This compromise means your [taxpayers'] paycheck will get smaller, and the state will continue to spend far beyond its means. That is not a compromise. That is a failure.”
Tillman asserted that Illinois needs to focus on true reforms hand-in-hand with a balanced budget that changes the system. Having a balanced budget alone won’t automatically fix the state’s problems, Tillman argued.
“It’s time to stand up and demand loud and clear what we want: a budget that dramatically changes our state government, turns our whole state system upside-down,” Tillman said. “We need a balanced budget without a tax hike that makes spending for the poor and disadvantaged … its No. 1 priority.”
Closing his speech, Rauner again implored lawmakers to come together.
"We’re asking the General Assembly to do what those who came before us did that changed the course of history: Have the courage to dare to do what is right ... to act for the people,” Rauner said. “And together, we will create a brighter future for every family across Illinois.”