The Illinois House wants to tap incoming but unallocated revenue to relieve struggling universities and human services.
The House voted 64-45 Thursday to authorize spending $817 million that is sitting in special funds during a two-yearlong budget holdup.
The stopgap funding deal approved by the House includes about $26 million for the Southern Illinois University System, plus additional Monetary Award Program, or MAP, grant funds that would benefit the campuses. That amount represents about 13 percent of the state appropriations SIU received in fiscal year 2015, the last year a full year’s budget was approved by lawmakers in Springfield.
“It is very encouraging,” John Charles, SIU’s director of government and public affairs, said after the vote. “We’re appreciative for everything that we get.”
* The Republicans complained, however…
Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, echoed the belief of many Republicans that passing another stopgap budget will take pressure off of lawmakers to pass a full, permanent state budget. He likened the lack of a budget to pressure building up in a tea kettle.
“(This) gives crumbs to those institutions and organizations that rely on us,” Harris said. “These stopgaps are relief valves. They are relief valves for the steam that is building up.”
More on that topic…
But here’s a very good response…
Yep. On the one hand, the Republicans want to take the pressure off the negotiations by paying state workers through infinity, but on the other hand they argue that some of the most vulnerable Illinoisans should be refused help in order to spur a budget deal.
* On to another point…
Money for the lifeline budget comes from two special state funds intended to help education and human services. The two funds get a small part of income tax receipts as they are received by the state and are constantly replenished. The funds will have more than $800 million in them by the end of the fiscal year in June that cannot be spent unless the General Assembly authorizes it.
The money is just sitting there gathering dust while universities crumble and the social service network frays. If the Senate was making real progress on a grand bargain, I could understand holding off. But it obviously isn’t.
* More objections…
Though Republicans have previously supported some stopgap spending plans, they said the difference this time is that they were not involved in negotiations. They questioned some of the spending, saying money was being set aside for things that were not urgent, including a program designed to produce teachers to work in distressed schools.
The House Republicans weren’t involved in negotiations by choice. Their leader was invited to participate and he didn’t respond.
* The second point is valid, but it would be even more valid had the GOP decided to participate…
Rep. Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, said the bill also provides money to some programs that are no longer in existence, as well as a teacher-training program that Republicans contend has little to show for the money invested in it. Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said the plan includes $10 million for those programs.
No doubt that part of this vote yesterday was about politics. House members can go home today saying they voted to help people. The Senate won’t return for two weeks, however. And the governor is indicating he’ll veto the bill…
Rauner has said he would not support another stopgap plan unless it included a permanent property tax freeze, a key portion of his political agenda.
Democrats have opposed such a freeze, saying it would starve local school districts that rely on those dollars. But they did approve a measure Thursday to expand some property-tax exemption programs, a move that could provide them some political cover to fight back against GOP claims they aren’t trying to give homeowners some relief.
That’s the political “tell” right there.
Besides that, all these property tax exemptions do is transfer the burden to other taxpayers. The money has to be paid one way or another, but Illinois politicians just love to narrow the taxing base whenever and wherever they can. It’s a big reason we’re in this mess today. Retirement income, food and medicine, services etc., etc., etc. are all exempted from taxation and that means others have to pick up the slack.
* Back to the original topic, however, the Sun-Times is exactly right today…
Gov. Bruce Rauner opposes turning over the money, saying he prefers passing a full budget, tied to non-budget measures he favors. Rauner said the House bill would keep public universities and social services “on the verge of collapse.”
But ask anyone teetering on the verge of a cliff: It’s better to be there than going over altogether.
Even if the Senate finally agrees on a grand bargain that includes new revenue, it is less and less likely the bargain will cover what remains of the 2017 fiscal year, which ends June 30. In earlier discussions, any income tax increase was to have been retroactive to Jan. 1, which would have provided some revenue for the current fiscal year. But doing that in April — or later — would require withholding a bite out of workers’ paychecks that’s just too big.
Without a budget in place, pain stretches across the state. Seniors with disabilities are losing services. Cutbacks on mental health services, substance abuse treatment and after-school programs will drive violence higher. Once-proud university campuses are reeling.
The state has the money to help. The Legislature and governor should speed it along.