Senate President John Cullerton's property tax freeze, school pension relief bill failed in a vote Wednesaday

CHICAGO — Illinois' Senate Democrats pushed through a one-month $2.26 billion budget and overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes on $2.3 billion of spending in their fiscal 2016 budget, legislation that faces dim to uncertain prospects.

The political divide in the General Assembly that has blocked adoption of a balanced budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 showed no signs of easing in the actions Wednesday. The one-month budget received three more votes than needed to achieve the three-fifths required majority in a 39-0 vote with 15 voting present.

Republicans voted "present" on the temporary spending plan, which Rauner has called unbalanced and unconstitutional and said he would not sign. The House previously passed the one-month stopgap measure that provides funding for essential services and allows the state to meet payroll, so it will soon head to the freshman GOP governor.

Democrats later on Wednesday overrode vetoes of five bills that were part of the Democratic-backed $36.3 billion budget approved in May. Rauner vetoed all but the education portion of the budget. Republicans voted against the overrides, which now head to the House where their fate is uncertain. House Democrats hold a narrower three-fifths majority, so all must support the override. The bills provide funding for public safety, juvenile justice, and public health spending.

Republicans slammed all the votes and attempted to drive home the $4 billion shortfall in the budget sent to the Rauner by the Democratic majority. They called the actions Wednesday political gamesmanship. Democrats countered that the governor's own $32 billion proposed budget was also out-of-whack given its reliance on $2 billion in pension reform savings that are unlikely to pass a legal test.

Democrats and Republicans dug their heels in over the budget Wednesday. Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, blasted the one-month plan saying it only puts the state on the path toward an "out-of-balance, unconstitutional budget."

"It's very narrowly focused," said bill sponsor state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago. "This in no way sets us on the path to overspend."

Rauner spokesman Lance Trover used the vote to attack House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who the administration has sought to blame for the impasse. "Speaker Madigan and the legislators he controls will leave town without a responsible, balanced budget and without any reforms while taking a pay raise for themselves. That's unfair to taxpayers and the people they represent. It is time to stop protecting the political class at the expense of the middle class," Trover said.

Rauner has said he would consider tax increases to lessen the need for cuts in a one-year budget. That's if Democrats get behind items in his proposed "turnaround agenda" that include a temporary local property tax freeze with curbs on contracting rules and collective bargaining, tort and worker's compensation reforms and constitutional amendments on redistricting and term limits. Democrats have considered variations of those proposals, but all fall short of meeting Rauner's demand.

On the later override votes, Murphy and his fellow Republicans again went on the attack. "There isn't the revenue" to support the proposed budget, Murphy said. "This is not the way to go forward."

The Senate failed to pass a separate reform proposal unveiled earlier in the day by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. It would impose a two-year local government property tax freeze, launch a study on changes to school funding aid formulas, and provide the pension relief being sought by the fiscally distressed Chicago Public Schools. It fell four votes short of the 36 needed for a super majority.

The relief for Chicago schools would come in the form of the state picking up a portion of the system's teachers' pension fund contributions to bring it in line with what the state pays for other districts. That would save the district $197 million in fiscal 2016. The bill also modifies the district's payment ramp for 2016 and 2017 trimming $207 million off the contribution in 2016 and $211 million in 2017 with a 90% funded ratio achieved in 2063.

"For too long the problems of soaring property taxes and inequitable school funding have gone ignored at the Capitol. This proposal forces action and lets people know that we're serious about our priorities and resolving the problems our state faces," Cullerton said.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said the bill offered a starting point of sorts for negotiation, but fell short of Rauner's version of a property tax freeze because it doesn't provide local governments with curbs on collective bargaining and contracting rules. "We need to have the tools in the bill" to help local governments manage with a freeze in place, Radogno said.

After House meetings Wednesday, Madigan held a news conference during which he urged Rauner to "put politics aside and sign the bill" funding one month's worth of government operations and raised the specter that a final budget didn't rest alone on a negotiated agreement with Rauner. "I don't necessarily presume there will be some kind of deal," he said. That suggests Democrats could use their super majority to eventually settle the budget issue.

The state can't pay fiscal 2016 bills without an appropriation, although some expenses including debt service continue to be made under a continuing appropriation.

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger has processed payroll for July 15, ensuring state employees received their scheduled paychecks based on a lower court ruling. Two separate courts have ruled differently on whether state workers can be paid without a budget, and the Illinois Supreme Court has been asked by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to decide the issue going forward.

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