Illinois House rejects major piece of governor's budget

Reuters News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 5:09 PM

By Karen Pierog

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner's plan to slash healthcare spending in the upcoming state budget failed to attract a single affirmative vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill amendment was the first major piece of the Republican governor's $32 billion, fiscal 2016 general funds budget, which relies on $6.6 billion in spending cuts, to come up for a legislative vote.

The human services budget totaling $11.1 billion, a $1.2 billion decrease from current appropriations, failed in a 0-67 vote.

Republican legislators voted "present" to protest the fact the amendment was not vetted by appropriate House committees and was instead sent directly to the chamber's floor by powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan said he offered the legislation to facilitate legislative consideration of the governor's budget.

State Representative Greg Harris, a Democrat, said committees have heard hours of testimony from social service agencies and others since Rauner unveiled his budget in February.

"It is not a mystery what is in this bill," Harris said.

House Democrats subsequently passed a bill amendment that restores funding to some programs, as Republicans continued to vote "present." Votes on more amendments were expected to follow.

Rauner's office said there was no time for "political stunts."

"Governor Rauner stands ready to work with Democrats to pass real structural changes to our government and enact a balanced budget," his office said in a statement. "Rather than engaging in political theater, we ask Democrats to meet the governor at the negotiating table and help turn our state around."

The state's fiscal year begins on July 1 and budget bills will require a three-fifths legislative vote after May 31. Rauner has ruled out any revenue increases without reforms that include right-to-work zones, a local property tax freeze, pension cuts, and legislative term limits.

Illinois has a chronic structural budget deficit, as well as the lowest credit ratings and worst-funded pension system among the 50 states. The fiscal crisis is the most severe the state has seen in decades, according to budget experts. Rauner has said reforms must precede new revenue.

A $26 million cut in the current state budget to social service programs ordered by Rauner in April was reversed after a groundswell of protests.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)