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Illinois lawmakers set to vote on stopgap spending deal

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, right, enter Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's office at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, June 28, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. If Illinois enters another year without a budget by Thursday, cash will stop flowing to local 911 centers, preventative health screenings and tuition grants for low-income college students. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic leaders of the Illinois General Assembly put aside their differences long enough to pass a short-term deal Thursday that allows state government to continue operating through December and funds local schools for a full year.

The spending portion of the plan was approved by votes of 105-4 in the House and 54-0 in the Senate, and Rauner signed it Thursday evening. The action came as Illinois was on the brink of starting a new fiscal year Friday without a budget in place after going an entire year without a complete spending plan.

Flanked by Republican lawmakers at a news conference shortly after the deal’s passage, the first-term Republican governor praised it as “a small step in the process of making Illinois strong and healthy and vibrant.”

Echoing comments from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Rauner said there is still much work to be done on a complete budget for the new year.

“This is an attempt at good-faith compromise to set up the possibility for a grand bargain,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”

The stopgap spending portion of the agreement largely reflects the work of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that has been negotiating for weeks.

It’s a $75 billion package in all, with the vast majority of the money coming from special state funds dedicated to specific expenditures. Of that total, $25 billion will cover expenses from the fiscal year that just ended, and the remainder will be for the new year. The agreement will get money to some areas, such of social services and state agency operations, that weren’t funded at all during the past year.

While Republicans and Democrats agreed that more money should be spent on elementary and secondary education next school year, how much more – and how much of that would go to Chicago Public Schools – was a major roadblock.

The two sides finally agreed to spend $7.5 billion in general revenue on schools, including enough to guarantee that no districts receives less state money than it did last year and an added $250 million directed to high-poverty districts.

A separate part of the agreement will allow Chicago to increase property taxes to pay down unfunded liabilities in its teacher pension fund, and another will have the state pay $215 million to pick up the employer’s share of city teachers’ pensions, something it does for the rest of the state. The latter will be contingent on the Legislature approving additional pension reforms.

The deal also includes $1 billion in additional funding for public universities, community colleges and grants to low-income students.

Republicans said the lesson to be taken from the accord is that compromise can be reached when the minority party is given a seat at the table.

“I hope that this can be the breakthrough that’s needed,” Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said, adding that he hopes leaderships sees what can be accomplished when rank-and-file members of both parties work together.

Democrats, meanwhile, took a different lesson, arguing that the way was cleared for a deal when Rauner agreed not to tie it to his pro-business, union-weakening “turnaround agenda.”

“Many previous efforts to implement a more comprehensive budget failed due to the governor’s insistence on the inclusion of his agenda that would drive down middle-class wages and standards of living,” House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said in his closing remarks of the extended spring legislative session. “The difference today is that the governor has dropped his demand that his agenda be considered before a budget could be approved.”

Members of both parties agreed that there’s much more work to be done when lawmakers return to Springfield after the Nov. 8 election.

Sens. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, and Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, both praised what the agreement does for elementary and secondary education. But they also called for changes in the way the state distributes money to schools, something they’ve both been advocating for several years, although with different approaches.

The newfound concord on a temporary budget is a welcome reprieve after 18 months of partisan battles, but it is unlikely to last long as the fall campaign gets underway in earnest.

During comments on the House floor Thursday, Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said he wouldn’t recount what led to the state’s yearlong budget impasse because “mark my word that it will be articulated during the fall.”

Noting Durkin’s comments, Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, a top target for Republicans, said he doesn’t see the stopgap compromise as a sign of good things to come.

“That’s not a good way to start off a compromise … to get a full year’s budget,” Smiddy said. ** No Magazine Use, No Broadcast Use **

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