Illinois governor increases budget pressure, grounds shuttle planes

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 01, 2015 3:21 PM

By Fiona Ortiz

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Reuters) - Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on Wednesday increased pressure on lawmakers unwilling to adopt his pro-business reforms as the state began its new fiscal year without a budget.

The Republican governor followed through on his plan to ground the state airplane shuttle between Chicago and Springfield, forcing some Chicago area lawmakers to find other ways to make the 195-mile trip home. He also used an amendatory veto to remove legislators' salary hikes ranging from $1,356 to $1,905 in fiscal 2016, noting a similar provision eliminating raises was incorporated into other recent state budgets.

The Democrat-controlled legislature was poised to pass a one-month $2.26 billion budget to maintain essential services, with legislation moving through a Senate Appropriations Committee. But Rauner's staff made it clear a temporary spending plan was not prudent.

In a memo, Illinois Budget Director Tim Nuding said the emergency budget "marches the taxpayers of Illinois toward an unbalanced budget one month at a time."

The governor's office confirmed it borrowed $454 million from special state funds in the meantime.

"It gives us greater flexibility to manage cash flow without a budget and helps reduce the specter of prompt payment penalties, which the state has routinely faced," said Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly.

Still, a legal battle looms over how much spending Rauner can execute without a budget. Democrats argue there are wide swathes of spending he cannot legally carry out without appropriations passed by the legislature.

The governor has insisted the legislature take up reforms, including a local property tax freeze, legislative term limits, and workers' compensation changes, in order to aid the state's sagging finances and boost economic growth.

Illinois has the worst-funded pension system and the lowest credit ratings among the 50 states.

Democrats need all of their 71 members in the 118-seat House and 36 out of 59 Senate votes to pass their emergency one-month budget, and the same numbers to override a veto.

Democrats continued to bring in witnesses to explain how their services will be impacted by the lack of an Illinois budget.

Hospital directors testified that without appropriation authority they cannot receive federal Medicaid funds, which will seriously impact their operations.

Chicago area mass transit officials warned of service cuts and fare hikes in testimony before the full House.

"The bottom line here is there's no magic place we can go to substitute funding from the state," said Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter Jr.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Richard Chang)

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