JOLIET – The Illinois General Assembly is expected to return Wednesday to Springfield, where it’s anticipated that a six-month stopgap budget will be discussed and voted on.
If approved, it would be the first fiscal blueprint for the state in nearly a year. Illinois has operated without a budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, 2015 – a year that ends Thursday.
State Sens. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, Pat McGuire, D-Joliet and Sue Rezin, R-Morris, along with state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, all confirmed Friday that they have been called to Springfield for a vote.
McGuire said a committee of 16 legislators from both sides of the aisle have been meeting three times a week since Memorial Day with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget director, Tim Nuding. Parameters of the stopgap budget have been agreed to by members of the budget committee, McGuire and Rezin said.
According to McGuire, the appropriations – if approved – would include funding for K-12 public schools for the 2016-17 year, allowing schools throughout the state to open on time in August; state operations, such as the Illinois Department of Corrections; and human services, such as recovery and youth programs.
There’s also a capital reauthorization bill on the table that would allow projects to continue, McGuire said. It was announced in the last week by the Illinois Department of Transportation that more than 800 state road projects would be shut down Friday if funding is not approved.
There is money for road construction projects, but the spending needs to be authorized for fiscal 2017, McGuire said. In Will County, the Route 6 bridge over Interstate 55 in Channahon is set for a stoppage. The same goes for Route 30 in Plainfield from I-55 to Route 59. And in Grundy County, Route 47 widening north of Interstate 80 is set to be shut down.
Also at risk if there is no approved budget is the free summer meal program, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The ISBE announced Friday it would not be able to offer free meals to thousands of children at more than 2,000 sites across the state until the General Assembly passes an education budget.
“Many of our children rely on our schools for access to nutr itious meals during the school year, and it is equally important during the summer months,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a news release. “Without passage of a funding bill, many of these education programs and grants are in danger. Each day this uncertainty continues, our kids suffer. Passing a Pre-K-12 budget will ensure schools open on time and our students have access to the resources they need.”
McGuire said there is also some catch-up funding to be paid out, such as MAP grants to low-income students.
Opinions on what a potential agreement will do for the state vary with legislators in Will and Grundy counties.
“What strikes me is when Rauner stops his budgetary demands, the two parties are able to come together to fund essential state services,” McGuire said.
Rezin said she is cautiously optimistic that a stopgap will be approved Wednesday.
She is concerned that House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Democrats, may try to throw in an additional $400 million for Chicago Public Schools or take out funding for state operations, such as prisons.
“Those would be poison pills,” Rezin said. “The ball is in their court.”
Rezin confirmed that none of Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda points is included in the stopgap proposal. She said everything in the proposal will be paid for by identified revenue.
Batinick said all a stopgap budget does is prolong uncertainty, and he is disappointed that meetings over the last month have not been about an actual budget. He said uncertainty continues to kill the state’s job growth because large organizations and small businesses alike will not invest in uncertainty. He said this week is shaping up as a do-or-die week.
“I’m not happy at all,” Batinick said. “I’m against the concept of a stopgap budget. All we do is guarantee the uncertainty goes on. It’s a killer.”
Bertino-Tarrant stated in an email that she is ready and eager to go back to Springfield to vote on a reasonable budget that will keep organizations, institutions and schools open and keep people working.