House Dems OK $800 million in new spending after heated debate

House Dems OK $800 million in new spending after heated debate

Illinois has racked up $14 billion in unpaid bills.

House Democrats on Thursday rushed through a vote on a stopgap spending bill to provide more than $800 million to human service providers and higher education programs for the final three months of the current fiscal year. Republicans called it irresponsible, saying it will only make the state’s finances less certain.

House Bill 109, a shell bill just a few days ago, was approved along partisan lines, 64-45, after often tense debate on the House floor.

After reading off a list of various human services and universities impacted by the budget impasse, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said “this is not only a crisis for the providers, for those that work for the providers, this is rapidly becoming a crisis in our communities and we’re seeing the fruits of that in so many cases of drug abuse, addiction and violence in our streets.”

House Republicans expressed sympathy for the service providers and others targeted with funding in the spending bill, but said rushing through another stopgap measure only creates further fiscal chaos and pushes Illinois’ many budgetary problems even further down the road.

Rep. Robert W. Pritchard, R-Sycamore, said human service providers and institutions of higher education can’t continue to wonder how much money is coming and when.

“What we’re doing by simply extending these kind of lifelines … is extending the agonies they have to deal with,” Pritchard said. “We need to get a full budget.”

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said instead of limping along one burst of cash after another, legislators should give all of those reliant on state dollars certainty with a fully balanced budget with reforms to grow the economy.

“They need to know that they have a lifeline beyond just the very immediate future,” Demmer said. “Kicking the can down the road by hopping from one stopgap to the next does not accomplish that and it may actually make it more difficult for us to come to a budget negotiation later.”

State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said human services and higher education are important areas “but we have $14 billion of unpaid bills right now and what do we say to the other people that are owed those bills that we need to address this year in a real budget for the state of Illinois?”

Bellock and other Republicans said there needs to be structural reforms to grow the economy as part of a full and balanced budget solution, but worry politics is getting in the way.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said during a news conference earlier Thursday that, “last week, two of my Democratic colleagues professed that they didn’t believe the Democrats would give Gov. [Bruce] Rauner a budget in his entire career and this is a play-out of that, the stopgap budget, the playing of politics.”

But Brady said some Democrats in the Senate, including President John Cullerton, are open to economic reforms. In the House under Speaker Mike Madigan, Brady said it’s a different story.

“He has been, I’ll call it numb or do-nothing, on the issues that are concerning to the people of Illinois,” Brady said.

The measure passed the full House Thursday, but the Senate begins a two-week vacation Friday and won’t consider it until senators return. Gov. Bruce Rauner has already expressed his opposition to further standalone stopgap spending. As voted on Thursday, Democrats would not have enough votes to override a veto.

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