News Local/State

Illinois Has A Budget After Lawmakers Override Rauner Vetoes


A view of the Statehouse in Springfield, where lawmakers in the House voted to override Gov. Rauner's vetoes and pass a state budget. Jenna Dooley/WNIJ

The Illinois House has voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's vetoes of a budget package. The action Thursday gives Illinois its first annual spending plan since 2015.

The House voted to override the Republican governor's veto of a $5 billion increase in income taxes and a $36 billion spending plan.

The veto overrides mean the nation's longest state budget crisis since at least the Great Depression has ended. The budget is retroactive to July 1 -- the start of the fiscal year. That's also the date that the 32 percent increase in the personal income tax rate takes effect.

Rauner vetoed the measures because he sees no indication that the Democratic-controlled Legislature will send him the "structural" changes he has demanded.

The crucial override vote was delayed after authorities received a report of possible hazardous materials, prompting an investigation, The Associated Press reports. "A woman allegedly threw a powdery substance in Rauner's office," the wire service writes, citing the Springfield fire chief.

Rauner was not present and no injuries were reported, but the early afternoon vote was put off as emergency workers investigated the material. The building was reopened by 3:30 p.m.

The budget negotiated by the Democrat-controlled Legislature is the first one passed in Illinois in more than two years. Rauner, a Republican, had been firmly opposed to the deal and particularly critical of the income tax hike it included. He vetoed the package of bills on Tuesday.

But enough Republican legislators supported the deal that Democrats were confident they could pass an override.

The state's long budget crisis began when Rauner took office and vowed, among other things, to take on the state's influential public-sector unions. The AP reports that the governor wanted a budget that would freeze property taxes, change workers' compensation programs and cut the cost of state employee pensions. He was also opposed to any permanent tax increase.

But the Democrats who control the Legislature didn't advance his proposals. The governor didn't blink, and two years passed without a budget.

Facing the possibility of a "junk" bond rating and eyeing some $15 billion in unpaid bills, state lawmakers decided to work out a deal and pass it over the governor's objections.

Brian Mackey of NPR Illinois reports that it took "a series of threats" to get lawmakers to the table — including not just the risk of a blow to the state's credit rating, but also the possibility of universities losing their accreditation.

"In the Illinois House, nearly one in three Republicans broke with their governor, supporting an income tax increase," Mackey says.

The Legislature took two weeks in continuous session to negotiate the deal, Mackey says. When Rauner vetoed it, the state Senate overrode him in less than an hour.

It took longer in the state House, where legislators had left town and needed to be called back for a vote.

How Area Lawmakers Voted

SB 9 (Income Tax Increase) Passed 71-42

Yes: Ammons (D-Urbana); Hays (R-Catlin); Phillips (R-Charleston); Scherer (D-Decatur); Mitchell (R-Forsyth)

No: Dan Brady (R-Bloomington)

SB 6 (State Budget) Passed 74-37

Yes: Hays (R-Catlin); Mitchell (R-Forsyth); Phillips (R-Charleston); Scherer (D-Decatur)

No: Dan Brady (R-Bloomington)

Not Voting: Ammons (D-Urbana)

SB 42 (Budget Implementation Act) Passed 71-41

Yes: Hays (R-Catlin); Mitchell (R-Forsyth); Scherer (D-Decatur)

No: Ammons (D-Urbana); Dan Brady (R-Bloomington)

Not Voting: Phillips (R-Charleston)

Reaction To The Budget Vote

Gov. Bruce Rauner released a statement shortly after the vote, criticizing Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and calling this "another step in Illinois' never-ending tragic trail of tax hikes."

"His tax-and-spend plan is not balanced, does not cut enough spending or pay down enough debt, and does not help grow jobs or restore confidence in government," the governor said in the statement.

Representative Carol Ammons, a Democrat who represents the Champaign-Urbana area, said she is "incredibly relived that all three budget-related bills have passed with veto overrides." She calls the budget balanced and reasonable that will "begin to dig us out of the financial hole of the last two and half years."

Representative Sue Scherer, a Decatur Democrat, had initially voted against the tax increase and the budget implementation bill, voting yes only on the budget itself. She had hoped that Gov. Rauner would use his amendatory veto powers to revise the three measures, and was disappointed when he vetoed them altogether. Scherer said she had to vote to override all three of the governor's vetoes, to save the services her constituents counted on.

"I had presidents of universities calling me, I had the CEO’s of hospitals calling me, I has school superintendents calling me", said Scherer. "I had everything you can think of, they’ve been calling me, saying we’re losing our jobs, we’re closing our doors."

State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, a Democrat, released a statement following the vote calling the override, "the only option to restore vital funding to universities, social service agencies, and try to avoid another credit downgrade." 

Frerichs also warned, “This is not a time to rejoice. Today only brings us a bit of relief." 

Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider released a statement saying he is "extremely troubled" but the 10 Republicans that sided with Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan. He also says "it is astonishing that these legislators would now turn their backs on taxpayers across the state."

University of Illinois president Tim Killeen issued a statement expressing relief that the standoff was finally over.

"I am deeply grateful to legislators for working overtime and making the difficult decisions on a compromise to avert the potentially dire consequences that loomed if the budget stalemate had extended through a third fiscal year," Killeen wrote.

Business groups warned of significant consequences for the state and taxpayers. Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, accused lawmakers of ignoring reality and driving "another nail in the coffin of job creators." 

Baise again called on the legislature to enact the pro-business reforms supported by Gov. Rauner, including overhauling workers compensation, pensions and property taxes. 

None of those proposals made it into the legislation. 

Lockdown At The Capitol

Just before the House was scheduled to begin today's session, the capitol was put on lockdown as crews in protective gear investigated a report of hazardous material that delayed the critical budget override vote.

An announcement over the loudspeakers around 3:45p in the Illinois House gave legislators and reporters gathered on Thursday afternoon the "all clear."

The Capitol was on lockdown as fire officials investigated a report of someone throwing a powdery substance in Gov. Bruce Rauner's Capitol office. Rauner isn't at the Capitol.

Dave Druker, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, which oversees Capitol security, says no hazardous material was found and the investigation is ongoing.  

No injuries were reported but no one was allowed to enter or exit the building for about two hours. The secretary of state's office has said one person is in custody.  

'Stealth Government Shutdown'

What has the lengthy budget stalemate meant for Illinois residents? Last month, Mackey described it as "a sort of stealth government shutdown," one that was invisible to most residents but painful for nonprofits providing services:

"Most of the state government is still largely functioning through a series of court orders. ...

"There are hundreds of programs [that] haven't been paid — for homeless teens, AIDS patients and victims of domestic violence. But this aspect of the state budget crisis is happening largely out of public view.

"In fact, almost two-thirds of Illinoisans say they have not been affected by the stalemate, according to a poll earlier this year.

" 'I figure they'll get it together sometime,' said George Cowper, a retiree who lives in Springfield and says he's been unaffected by the standoff.

"The lack of public pressure has made it easier for each side to stay in its corner."