As expected, the Illinois House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a budget that will keep state government operating through July.
The bill, House Bill 3920, now goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it Friday, just a day before the current state budget expires, which would leave the state without the legal authority to write checks. Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, agreed to support the bill.
After 45 minutes of political sniping under the guise of debating the bill, the House voted 111-3 to adopt the interim budget.
"If we don't take some action to authorize the comptroller to pay bills, the state will slowly grind to a halt," said Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, the House Democrats' chief budget negotiator. "While we have differences on what a final budget should be, these differences should not cause state government to stop."
Essentially, the House took the current state budget and passed it again after making a handful of changes, such as adding money to make higher pension payments that will be required even under a permanent spending plan.
The budget does not include additional money for employee salaries, even though union workers are scheduled to get raises beginning July 1. Hannig said the raises will be honored anyway.
"Under any circumstances, the governor is obligated to pay the contract he entered into on behalf of the state," Hannig said. "We think for this one month, he'll be able to make the payments to his employees as provided for in the contract."
The budget contains no money for school aid payments, but Hannig said the state does not make those payments to schools in July anyway. If the current budget impasse continues beyond the end of the month, schools could begin feeling the pinch, a fact not lost on Republicans.
"The pressure point is in August," said Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville. "If you don't come up with that (permanent) budget by the end of July, how will you make payments to schools? You endanger a shutdown of the Illinois public education system."
Most of the debate on the spending bill involved Republicans complaining about the performance of Democrats who control both the House and Senate and the governor's office.
"It's you on the other side who have touted the fact you are in charge and you were not able to get a budget passed," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. "All of you are responsible for the failure of not passing a budget on time. You are causing gridlock potentially in this state. You should be ashamed of that."
Only one Democrat, Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, voted against the bill.
"It takes away a real sense of urgency to get (a permanent budget)," Franks said. "We could be doing this through December. We should have a showdown here and now."
Black warned that Democrats shouldn't count on Republican votes to keep government operating month-to-month after July.
"We will extend our votes this evening for an emergency July budget," Black said. "I wouldn't count on that for August."
The emergency budget is needed because Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders have been unable to agree on a full-year spending plan. Blagojevich and Jones want to spend more than Cross, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville.
"We don't have billions of (new) dollars to spend,' Cross said. "People don't want us to raise taxes. We need to accept the fact we don't have any more money."