Illinois has been stuck in a record-breaking budget stalemate.
The state’s last budget, for the fiscal year of 2015, expired on June 30, 2015, and a full budget hasn’t been passed since. This makes Illinois’ state budget impasse the longest in the history of the United States.
Normally, state governors present their budget proposals to their respective General Assemblies in February. This allows for about four months of negotiations before the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
Illinois, however, hasn’t been able to pass a full budget for the last two years.
What’s the delay?
The budget has been deadlocked because Governor Bruce Rauner, Illinois’ first GOP governor in over a decade, has been pitted against the Democrats who control the General Assembly.
Rauner became governor through promoting a plan that he called a Turnaround Agenda. Once in office, the governor maintained that his reforms would help grow the economy and create more jobs, but the Democrats running the Illinois General Assembly didn’t like his strategies.
Rauner has been proposing permanent property tax freezes, legislative term limits, changes to the state’s workers’ compensation payments, and pension cuts. His proposals don’t line up with the Democrat’s demands, which include changes to Illinois’ income tax structure, sales taxes on a wider array of services, removal of some corporate and personal income tax loopholes and a higher minimum wage
The divide comes down to a fundamental issue — Illinois Republicans have said that Democratic reform efforts are nowhere near the level that they need to be, and Democrats blatantly disagree. Both sides staunchly believe they are in the right, leaving them stuck in this two-year deadlock.
Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, has been a prominent force on the opposing end of the budget proposals. As the second-longest serving leader of any state legislative body, Madigan has been involved with every major state law affecting pensions over the last three decades. Madigan has also been a leader in budget deliberations every year.
What does this affect?
Though roughly 63,000 employees are still receiving their state paychecks, things will worsen if a 2018 budget isn’t approved soon.
The lack of state budget affects nearly everything in Illinois, from pension checks to construction projects.
The state’s unpaid bills are also piling up — right now they’re worth $13 billion — making the state’s credit weaker than ever.
This accumulation of debt has led to uncertainty about nearly everything in Illinois. Social services and higher education are in a fragile state right now.
Organizations that help the homeless, seniors and domestic violence victims are collapsing without state funding. Shelters are laying off employees and making cutbacks, but some are still being forced to close.
Construction projects are also being delayed. Contractors have been told to avoid destructive work, like tearing up old roads or bridges, since they may not be able to fix it before the budget deadline at the end of June. This doesn’t means that Illinois construction will fully stop, it’ll just take even longer.
Illinois may also lose its state lotto, since funding for the state lottery requires a payment from the Legislature.
The only things that Illinois lawmakers can seem to agree on are schools, which are still on edge.
While attempting to make the 2016 budget, Rauner vetoed everything that the Democrats sent him except for a K-12 education bill. For the attempted 2017 budget, lawmakers had to pass a temporary stop gap plan in order to open schools on time last fall.
How has this gone on for so long?
Illinois massive pension gap and severe debt have made it nearly impossible for lawmakers to compromise. Gov. Rauner wants to change union rules, cut Medicaid and implement pension reforms, but the predominantly Democratic General Assembly will not compromise.
Illinois also doesn’t have direct consequences in place to ensure that their budget will be passed on time.
In 22 other states, failure to pass a budget leads to a government shutdown. Some states even take it a step further. According to the Associated Press, “In California, state legislators and other statewide elected officers don’t get paid if they fail to send the governor a budget by June 15.”
Gov. Rauner knows that entering a third year without a budget isn’t a wise choice, but it’s coming down to the wire, yet again.
Illinois lawmakers are now holding a special session in hopes of compromising on a 2018 budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
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