Post-mortem: What’s in Illinois’ stopgap budget?
The stopgap budget passed by the General Assembly provides six months worth of funding for government services such as road construction, as well as a full K-12 education budget for the 2016-2017 school year, property-tax-raising authority for Chicago, and more state funding of pensions for Chicago Public Schools teachers.
The Illinois General Assembly met June 29 and June 30 for the first time since the regular spring session concluded at the end of May, and passed both a six-month budget and a negotiated education funding bill for the upcoming year.
Preceding the June 29 session, glimmers of hope appeared for a temporary, or “stopgap,” budget to get Illinois through the November election, with Gov. Bruce Rauner and the four legislative leaders indicating their negotiations were finally progressing.
But going into the special session, it appeared the two sides were still struggling to reach a compromise on K-12 education funding, with a bailout of financially strapped Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, differentiating the Republican and Democratic plans.
So what did lawmakers agree to?
- Stopgap budget: The House and Senate both approved a six-month budget that essentially comprised the recommendations of legislative working groups that have been developing a stopgap plan over recent weeks. The most significant provisions include money for road projects, human services, state vendor contracts and higher education.
- Education funding: Schools will be able to open on time with funding that includes an additional $250 million in poverty grants, approximately $100 million of which will go to Chicago schools. The rest will be spread out among downstate districts according to their low-income student populations.
- Chicago pension “parity”: The state will begin to contribute more to CPS’ pension costs, but this measure, which makes CPS pensions function more like other districts’, doesn’t take effect until 2017. This gives the General Assembly more time to pass a pension reform plan in accordance with Rauner’s request, or the governor may reject the CPS pension assistance when it comes due.
- Chicago property-tax authority: The final component of the deal gives Chicago the authority to raise property taxes to aid in funding teachers’ pensions.
This breakthrough came at a critical moment, as June 30 marks the end of the 2016 fiscal year. The lack of a comprehensive budget for fiscal year 2016 or fiscal year 2017 meant that as of July 1, transportation and infrastructure projects would have needed to start boarding up, prisons and state facilities would have begun to run out of operating money, vendors could have stopped providing services and sued for money owed, and social services would have had to continue turning away the most vulnerable. The impasse had become even more tense as the start of the 2016-2017 school year loomed, with districts uncertain whether they could open their doors in the fall.
While the session’s developments elicited sighs of relief, the impasse story has not ended. The agreed appropriations will only take the state through the November election, by which point the General Assembly will need to make the hard decisions necessary to avoid this very situation playing out again in 2017.