Both houses of the Illinois General Assembly returned to Springfield November 10, a day for both bipartisan agreements and unexpected tensions.
A meeting between the four legislative leaders and the Governor November 18 could give further insight into the stakes of the budget struggle, although attendees are downplaying expectations for a comprehensive resolution in the immediate future.
Progress and partisan maneuvering
The stage was set November 9, with the announcement of bipartisan agreements on three significant subjects.
• Child-care assistance program: Governor Bruce Rauner and a bipartisan group of legislators announced an agreement that would significantly expand eligibility for the state’s child-care program, which had been in limbo pending movement on the state budget. As a result of the agreement, eligibility was raised from 50 percent of the federal poverty level to 162 percent – or about $32,500 for a family of three.
• Unemployment insurance: Governor Rauner, legislators from both sides of the aisle, business groups, and labor organizations announced an agreement to reform and improve Illinois’ unemployment insurance system. The agreement introduces new standards for eligibility, including a denial of benefits in the case of consumption of alcohol or drugs during work hours; damage caused through grossly negligent conduct; falsification of information during application; and several other standards.
• Determination of Need for senior citizens: Following the earlier agreements, Governor Rauner announced the withdrawal of emergency changes to the state’s Determination of Need score, which determines which senior citizens are eligible for specific state-provided assistance.
The agreements demonstrate what can be accomplished through bipartisan cooperation and meaningful dialogue; however, that spirit of bipartisanship was short-lived.
On November 10, Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted a series of runarounds to the bipartisan agreements. The chamber’s leaders held roll-call votes on Senate Bill 570, a bill to increase the eligibility in the child care program to 185% and prevent the Governor’s ability to make rule changes in the future; and a veto override attempt on Governor Rauner’s changes to House Bill 2482, affecting the Determination of Need score.
Both attempts failed – by a single vote – to gain the supermajority needed to pass.
House Democrats also pulled a procedural maneuver on another important piece of legislation. House Bill 4305 would have designated funding to pay lottery winners and release motor fuel tax funding to local municipalities and 911 centers. The maneuver means despite the legislation passing overwhelmingly in the House, the legislation cannot be placed on the fast-track to the Senate without the House’s consent.
Republicans in the House called those actions “bad-faith” after bipartisan agreements had been reached, and a clear step in the opposite direction of a wider agreement on the state budget.
Two pro-jobs tax programs getting back on track
On November 10, as a result of the bipartisan compromises between legislators and the Governor, the Rauner Administration announced it is moving forward on two pro-jobs tax initiatives: Illinois’ EDGE Tax Credits and Film Tax Credits. Both programs had previously been suspended indefinitely as a result of the ongoing budget impasse.
With this change, Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will once again be able to make EDGE offers to companies, and Film Tax Credits can be green-lighted to approved projects in Illinois. Offers for new projects, however, will still not be able to be certified or claimed until a Fiscal Year 2016 budget is enacted.
November 18 meeting on schedule
The Governor’s meeting with the leaders of the four legislative caucuses is scheduled for November 18, to discuss the best way to move Illinois forward.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton should build on the three bipartisan agreements, and work toward compromise on the other important reforms needed to turn Illinois around.