Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday May 9th, 2016, 4:55pm

Illinois Republican Lawmaker: Budget Proposal Possibly On The Horizon

State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) says she is hopeful a bipartisan committee of state lawmakers will have a budget proposal ready to present soon.

Bellock is a member of the budget working group, which was reportedly formed by the governor and is meeting daily. She spoke Monday afternoon at a City Club of Chicago discussion on the Illinois budget. Three other state lawmakers were on the City Club of Chicago panel, including state Sens. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and state Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills).

The budget working group, Bellock said, is comprised of "budgeteers from all the different (appropriation) committees." The group is "trying to come up with" a budget proposal and is working on "line item after line item after line item," she explained.

"There is a group working on that, and I'm hoping that by the end of the week, they will come up with what they have, an agreement," she added.

In remarks after the discussion, Bellock said she is optimistic the committee will have a proposal presented before the regular legislative session ends May 31. 

"Yes, I definitely feel they are going to," she told Progress Illinois. "I think with how I left them Friday, they were. But we're moving forward this week. We'll know more by the end of the week. But everybody's working well together, and we'll see how it gets towards the end of the week." 

Lawmakers spoke at the City Club of Chicago during the eleventh month of the state budget impasse. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers have been at odds over a spending plan that should have taken effect last July. 

"My view is we're past the rhetoric. We're past the talk, press conferences, the name calling," McSweeney said. "We should be voting on specific proposals ... No matter what, let's solve this budget crisis, because we are doing permanent damage that we will never be able to recover from."

At the center of the impasse is the governor's controversial anti-union, pro-business policy agenda. Rauner wants items on his so-called "Turnaround Agenda" approved as part of a budget deal. Democrats, who control both legislative chambers, want a budget with a mix of cuts and new revenue. Rauner's proposals that would weaken unions are fiercely opposed by Democrats. 

The governor has expressed a willingness to support revenue options if his proposed "structural reforms" aimed at improving the state's economy are adopted. 

For his part, McSweeney said Illinois lawmakers should act on pension, procurement and Medicaid reforms to produce savings.

"I am not in favor of cutting spending for the truly needy. Let me make that clear," he said. "But I am in favor of restructuring pensions. I am in favor of completely revamping the Medicaid system to protect the truly needy, but to eliminate waste and fraud, to get more federal money into the system. And we're talking about the structural reform in this state. Nobody's talking about structural reform of pensions and Medicaid. My concern is that if you don't address those two items and you simply raise marginal tax rates on small businesses, ... that would make the problem worse."

Biss commented on the Illinois GOP's calls for "structural reforms."

"I think we need to be a little bit careful about the unicorn -- that it's attractive to talk about reform when we mean cut," Biss said. "Just saying reform, instead of saying cut, doesn't necessarily mean that we're achieving a magical resolution that allows us to spend less without hurting people."

Biss pointed to Rauner's own budget proposal in suggesting that reforms alone won't solve the state's fiscal problems. 

"Governor Rauner, who I think has sterling fiscal conservative credentials, has now in two sessions as governor not laid out a balanced budget that doesn't rely on additional revenue," Biss said. "And the reason for that is even someone who is deeply interested, as he is, in decreasing expenditures and finding low-tax ways of balancing budgets has looked very closely at this and simply not found a mechanism to balance the state's books that doesn't have some additional revenue coming in."

Manar predicted that a potential budget agreement could mirror the spending plan Democrats passed last year. Rauner vetoed most of that Democrat-backed budget, citing its $4 billion shortfall. 

"That was a bare-bones budget that was passed by the majority," Manar said.

The state senator added: "I would echo Daniel's sentiments that if there was a magic unicorn running through the Capitol, somebody would have caught it by now and would have put it into a bill, and we would have passed it and the governor would have signed it. There are no easy choices."

In certain areas of the Democrat-passed spending plan, Manar said the measure "funded agencies to a lesser degree" than Rauner had proposed. 

"I think eventually, what's going to be passed is gonna look substantially similar, perhaps with some other things that will have to be set into motion that will take time," Manar said. "But in the immediate future, that budget document that the governor vetoed, I think, is a spending plan in terms of where we should begin the conversation for the state."

Speaking after the event, Bellock said she doesn't think a budget agreement is "going to be the same" as the plan approved by Democrats.

"I think there's gonna be some other changes, and we have not finished that, so I can't even tell you what those changes are gonna be, and that's supposed to be kept quiet in that committee," she said. "But I think it will be different looking than what it was last year."

Andrea Durbin, CEO of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, was in the audience at today's budget discussion. Her organization is part of Pay Now Illinois, a coalition of 64 human and social service providers. The coalition sued the governor and six state agencies last week over a breach of contract. The providers, which have state contracts, are collectively owed over $100 million for services performed during the budget impasse. 

"I think the conversation today just illustrated how difficult it is to come to a decision [on the budget]," Durbin said. "For us, the challenge is we've been doing business with the state, and we've been held accountable for that work, and now we're asking the state to do its part. And it's unfortunate that we have to come to this point by filing a lawsuit."

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