$42 billion budget cleared for Pritzker’s signature

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Perhaps because of the flap over the latter, Senate President Don Harmon in the middle of the night filed a motion to reconsider Senate passage of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed $42 billion operating budget. The motion means the budget can’t go to Pritzker for his signature.

Harmon and his spokesman haven’t explained the highly unusual move. But speculation centers on the role of Harmon’s chief of staff, Jake Butcher, who before he went to work for Harmon was a lobbyist for Prairie State Energy, which runs a “clean coal” generation plant and reportedly wants to be exempted from provisions of a deal that otherwise has the backing of both Pritzker and Harmon.

More word may come after Senate Democrats are due to caucus.

The caucus also likely will discuss the elected Chicago school board, amid continuing strong disagreement between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and allies of the Chicago Teachers Union over when and how to move toward a fully elected board.

A bill to begin electing a 21-member board already has passed the House and, in theory, Democrats have enough votes to pass it on their own in the Senate with the supermajority requirements that kicked in at midnight. But Harmon has insisted that the city needs a “hybrid” board of some elected and some mayoral-appointed members while transitioning to a full elected board.

What will he do? We’ll see, but the Illinois House already has adjourned its spring session, so anything the Senate does except passing a House bill will have to come up later.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot’s office is refusing to comment on widespread talk out of Springfield that over the weekend she floated a plan to reduce the number of votes needed to enact a new city ward map from 41 of the 50 aldermen to a simple majority of 26.

At least three aldermen are saying she tried to do just that. No one has produced an actual bill, but Lightfoot’s press office isn’t commenting, so it’s quite possible something is up.

Also pending: tighter possible rules for obtaining a FOID card. The House passed a measure to require FOID applicants to be fingerprinted, but it never made it to the Senate. The Senate measure called for voluntary fingerprinting, but no word yet on whether the House will call it for a move.

And, in one other bit of news, reform groups blasted new ethics rules the General Assembly introduced and pushed through yesterday as far too weak.

“After nearly two years of talk and work on ethics reforms, we’ve seen a do-nothing commission that did not even bother to publish a final report and an attempt to rush through ethics proposals,” Change Illinois, the Better Government Association, Common Cause Illinois and Reform Illinois said in a joint statement.

The plan lawmakers adopted prevents retired members from lobbying their old colleagues for six months after leaving office, allows them to lobby local governments if those units are not seeking something from the state and requires more extensive economic disclosure by candidates for the Legislature.

The groups wanted a two-year lobbying ban, a total halt to state lawmakers lobbying local governments and a requirement that lawmakers with a financial interest in a pending matter not only disclose their holdings but recuse themselves from voting.

UPDATE—Harmon spokesman John Patterson now is saying this about the motion to reconsider the budget: “It’s a procedural move to protect our accomplishment from any political shenanigans. We are tremendously proud of what this budget accomplishes and look forward to delivering it to the governor to sign.”

Patterson didn’t elaborate, but some Senate Democrats were upset that the final budget included a cost-of-living pay hike for lawmakers and voted against the spending plan. Since only one motion to reconsider can be filed, Harmon’s—which could be lifted at any time—will prevent any disgruntled back bencher from doing that on their own.

If all of that’s true, look for Harmon to release the budget and the document to go to Pritzker for his signature ASAP.

UPDATE—Pritzker, sounding very much like someone getting ready to run for re-election, declared the spring legislative session “another landmark” that represents “a significant turning point for our state.”

The budget in particular is balanced, holds spending flat except for aid to education and social services and puts a priority on continuing to pay down state debt, Pritzker told reporters in his first media availability in nearly two weeks. It also makes the legally required roughly $10 billion contribution to the state’s pension systems—all in contrast to the fiscal chaos and rising debts of the Bruce Rauner years, Pritzker said.

Republicans wanted to use the latest $8.1 billion in federal COVID relief funds “to give favors to wealthy business (owners),” Pritzker said, apparently referring to calls to avoid closing $650 million in “corporate tax loopholes” that was part of the budget. Instead, “Fiscal discipline pays off.”

Pritzker did not say what will be the priority on spending much of the $8.1 billion that has not yet been allocated. All sides are clamoring for that money, with the Illinois Manufacturers Association for instance urging that debt in the state’s unemployment trust fund be paid down and liberal groups urging a big hike in the state’s earned-income tax credit to help working people.

Nor did he mention that unfunded liability in the state’s pension systems continues to rise, largely because annual state contributions are set by law rather than by what actuaries say is needed.

The governor shrugged off questions about the energy bill, saying he hopes remaining issues get resolved soon. And though he’s widely expected to sign them into law, he said said he’s “reviewing” proposed new legislative and Illinois Supreme Court district maps sent to him by the Legislature. Republicans should have proposed their own maps he said, but some changes could be made after complete Census data is available in late summer.

Republicans bitterly complained that they were all but shut out of the remap process, with the Democrats unveiling their plan just one working day before beginning hearings on them.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

June 1, 2021 at 05:44PM

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