Debt-Ridden Illinois Heading Toward State Government Shutdown

By Emily Richards | July 1, 2015 | 4:12pm EDT
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. (AP photo)

( – Illinois is heading toward a state government shutdown after the legislature adjourned Tuesday without closing a $6.2 billion gap and passing a budget by the July 1 deadline.  

Illinois currently has the largest deficit and lowest credit rating of any of the 50 states. According to the University of Illinois, its current annual deficit is $9 billion, which is projected to grow to $14 billion by FY 2026.

"We've got a mess," Gov. Bruce Rauner told workers at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday. "It's going to take a little while to fix. I hope we can get it fixed promptly."

After months of debate, the Republican governor and the Illinois General Assembly’s Democratic majority were unable to resolve their budget dispute by Tuesday’s deadline.

In June, the legislature sent the governor a $36 billion spending plan which he vetoed and criticized as being unbalanced. “When you send a budget $4 billion out of balance, this is what happens,” Republican House Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) remarked.

"Obviously I'm disappointed and frustrated with the General Assembly,” Rauner added. “We could and should resolve these issues on a prompt basis. This has been dragging for a while."

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) proposed a one-month, $2.2 billion stop-gap spending plan that would provide more time to pass a year-long budget without causing a government shutdown, but Raunder has threatened to veto it.

"We need structural reform and see, change is hard," Rauner said. "But we need to have change. If all we're going to do is keep the status quo, and if all we do is raise taxes to cover up the status quo, we'll continue in our long-term slow decline and the people of Illinois deserve better than that."

Madigan's plan would require 36 votes in the 59-member state Senate and 71 votes in the 118-member Illinois House to pass. The same number of votes would be required to override a potential veto if Gov. Rauner does not approve the temporary budget.

"I would simply hope that the governor would see the wisdom of continuing to keep the government functioning," Speaker Madigan said. "This is a reasonable proposal … everybody in the legislature should vote for it, and the governor should sign it."

“I know the word 'shutdown' has been thrown around a lot, and frankly, I think it's cavalier to try to scare people,” Tim Nuding, Rauner's budget chief, told House lawmakers.

Gov. Rauner, who used his veto authority to strike down a cost-of-living raise for state lawmakers on Wednesday, says he has been working to ensure that state employees will continue to be paid even without a budget in place. “I will do everything within my power,” Rauner said. “Our lawyers are working hard to ensure that all employees will be paid on their scheduled pay dates.”

It is unclear when organizations and workers that rely on state government funding will start feeling the effects of the impasse. The state reportedly has enough money to pay 65,000 employees through mid-July.

Some expenses - including payments for retiree benefits, cash assistance for low-income families, and payments into the state's pension system - are written into law and therefore will continue without a budget. Cities and towns will also continue to receive their portion of state income, sales and motor-fuel taxes.

“Governor Rauner has compromised repeatedly, but Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls continue to block any real reform,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said in a press release. “It’s deeply troubling to see that Speaker Madigan remains committed to sacrificing the middle class in order to protect the political class.”

However, not everyone agrees that the governor’s budget-cutting approach is the right way to deal with Illinois’ massive deficit.

“We're talking about providing services for the people of the state of Illinois. Why should that be leveraged against anything other than providing those services?” state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) asked.

This is not the first time Illinois has found itself mired in a budget crisis. In 2009, the state legislature was also unable to pass a budget before the July deadline after then-Governor Pat Quinn vetoed two budget bills. He eventually signed a bill that allowed him to make $1 billion in spending cuts. 

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