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home : local news : local news July 25, 2017

6/28/2017 10:50:00 AM
Phillips: Issues remain on state spending plan
Daily News

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said Monday that Democrats are finalizing a proposed state spending plan that could be ready for Republican scrutiny as early as today, with just four days before Illinois begins a third year in a row without a budget.

Partisan statements were measured and verged on the hopeful Monday, the sixth consecutive day of special legislative session called by GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner after Democrats who control the General Assembly failed to send him a fiscal blueprint by the May 31 end of the spring session.

But not all legislators view the announcement quite so harmoniously. State Rep. Reggie Phillips (R-Charleston), who represents Crawford County, said signing the budget proposal could be "political suicide" for Republicans.

"Madigan has asked for 31 House Republican votes to go with the 40 Democrat votes," Phillips said.

After Monday's session and announcement, Phillips said there are three main sticking points: workers' compensation reform, property taxes and income taxes.

Phillips said he does not believe Madigan and the Democrats are willing to lower the medical provider fees set under worker compensation. "In Illinois it costs $30,000 for a knee replacement," Phillips said. "In Missouri it costs $6,000 and in other state around $15,000."

Phillips said while Democrats claim to have lowered fees 19 percent, Illinois is still twice as costly as elsewhere. He also said he does not believe this is a battle that will be won here and they will have to move on to taxes.

Taxes are a "more or less" argument. Republicans say freezing property taxes would be a relief for taxpayers, allowing them to spend money in other areas to stimulate the economy. And they add that higher income taxes would create a relief for property taxes. "Illinois already pays the highest property taxes in the country," Phillips said.

Phillips said Democrats are wanting a 4.9 to 5-plus percent income-tax increase on a permanent basis. Republicans are willing grant an income tax increase, but one a four year basis along with a four year property tax freeze.

Another area of contention is school funding. Democrats want to pass Senate Bill 1, which Phillips said would give more money to Chicago-area schools and to their teacher pension plan. Republicans want their bill, SB 1124, that they contend would be more equitable for downstate schools.

Looking ahead. Phillips believes the Democrats will present a budget ranging from $36 to $38 billion. He also looks for a bond proposal of $4 billion to help pay down the $15 billion in past due bills. Phillips also believes they will propose using $4 billion of the income tax increase to pay bills.

The two-year stalemate, the longest of any state since at least the Depression, has driven the annual budget deficit to $6.2 billion and spawned a $15 billion heap of overdue bills.

Democrats have resisted Rauner's calls for mixing into budget discussions other issues including cost-saving changes to workers' compensation, state-employee pension-benefit programs, and a local property tax freeze, among other things. Democratic and Republican House designees are negotiating compromises on those issues.

Whatever deals result, Madigan warned that Rauner is the wild card and Republican lawmakers must convince him to climb aboard.

"It will be up to the Republican leaders to take those positions to the governor and persuade the governor to be reasonable," Madigan said.

Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis declined comment. She pointed to a Rauner tweet Tuesday noting that lawmakers have "four more days to send a balanced budget to my desk. Stop wasting time."

Neither Madigan nor his budget negotiator, fellow Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, would say how similar the plan is to one the Senate passed in May. That was a $37.3 billion plan paid for with $5.4 billion in mostly income-tax increases and $3 billion in spending reductions.

Earlier Monday, Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, called negotiations on workers' comp, a pension overhaul and a property-tax freeze "a positive step forward, but that's not everything."

"Show us your budget," Durkin said. "We have our budget and (let's) begin reconciliation. We have 4½ days, but the longer this goes on, the more difficult it makes it for me" to round up sufficient GOP votes to satisfy Madigan's demand that both sides share the burden.

Phillips said they will know more after today's session.

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