SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers will return to the Capitol next week after failing to pass a state budget before their scheduled adjournment date Friday, as top Democrats continued to haggle over final details.
Though the party holds the governor’s office and supermajorities in both the House and Senate, Democratic leaders were still working to smooth out last-minute hangups in a spending plan expected to exceed $50 billion. The most notable challenge has been how to cover the skyrocketing cost of a program that provides health care for undocumented immigrants over the age of 42.
“When we came to Springfield in January, we made it clear that our top priority was a fiscally responsible budget that prioritized hardworking Illinoisans. That continues to be true,” Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, wrote in a joint statement Friday evening. “Conversation is ongoing and negotiations are productive. We are committed to passing a good, balanced budget for the people of Illinois.”
“I am optimistic we will be able to bring all the planes in for a landing,” Harmon later added before the Senate adjourned.
Legislators’ May 19 adjournment date — though arbitrary — had been known for months. But a series of events over the past few months that added pressure on the spending and revenue sides have set lawmakers back.
And lawmakers and advocacy groups, encouraged by robust revenues that have replenished state coffers the past couple years, have requested larger spending increases. This includes the state’s hospitals, which have requested an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates, and progressive lawmakers, who have asked for several spending increases, such as for a child tax credit.
On the revenue side, the picture is far less rosy than it was a few months ago. Earlier this month, the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability revised its revenue forecast for the current budget year down $728 million to $51.2 billion. The commission’s revenue forecast for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, stayed flat at $50.4 billion.
“Now we’re seeing that revenues are down, the income from income taxes in April were down significantly. And all of these bills are coming due,” said state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur. “And they’ve got to pay for those things that they’ve put in place over the last three years. And it doesn’t leave a lot of extra money. In fact, it’s probably to create some real hardships.”
The downturn in tax receipts in the final months of the current budget year essentially erases a surplus that lawmakers were hoping could be used for a number of those resource-starved programs and gave them much less flexibility than they had during the last budget process.
“Some of us were sort of prepared that this is probably going to happen,” said state Rep. Sharon Chung, D-Bloomington. “We kind of heard that there were going to be some problems in terms of coming up with a budget because of revenue being short.”
Chung added, however, that she believed budget negotiators were “doing everything so that we’re able to have an agreed-upon budget by all the people involved” by the time lawmakers return next week.
Only a few details have been shared with rank-and-file lawmakers, lobbyists and the public about the proposed spending plan.
Hospitals are expected to receive a 10% increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates, their first in several years though lower than their initial 20% ask.
And some version of Pritzker’s $250 million early childhood plan, a multi-year effort aimed at eventually providing every child in the state with access to pre-K, is expected to be included.
But the big hangup has been has been the health care program for undocumented immigrants.
The first-of-its-kind program started during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to insure mostly-undocumented non-citizens over the age of 65. The age was later worked down to 42 during budget negotiations in 2020. Members of the legislative Latino Caucus want to expand it even further to cover everyone over the age of 18.
However, the Department of Health and Family Services first warned in March that costs far exceeded expectations. Earlier this month, the department revised its cost estimate for the program for the next fiscal year even higher to $1.1 billion. Pritzker’s proposed budget only allocates $221 million for the program, blowing a nearly $880 million hole in his plan.
Pritzker told reporters earlier this month that it was up to the legislature to find a solution, though he suggested that instituting co-pays and less generous reimbursement rates could help control costs. Other suggestions include limiting future enrollment in the program.
Lawmakers, however, have appeared unwilling to include a legislative fix in the budget, instead hoping that DHFS can control costs administratively.
While program expansion appears to be a nonstarter, Latino and progressive lawmakers have made clear that they are against taking away health care that’s already been given through the program.
With their largest legislative supermajorities in generations, much of the debate is taking place within Democratic ranks as lawmakers seek to balance the needs of their communities with the fiscal health of the state, which has improved mightily in recent years after more than two decades of unbalanced budgets and credit rating downgrades.
“I think that we’re just trying to figure out what we can do to sort of bring the sub-caucuses on the Democratic side together so we can really make sure that everybody is somewhat okay with what we land on in a compromise,” Chung said. “And that’s just kind of what this whole process is about.”
Largely excluded from the budget-making process thus far have been superminority Republicans. In the House, members of the party made several inquiries last week about when budget plan might be introduced. They still have not gotten word.
But with with an extra week, Republican leaders said it would be a mistake for Democrats not to include them into the fold.
“There is much to accomplish and too much on the line to disregard our caucus from the budget process,” said House Republican Leader Tony McCombie. “The truth is Republicans and Democrats have shared priorities and past promises yet to be kept … We are problem solvers. We want to govern.”
The House and Senate are scheduled to be in Wednesday and Thursday with the latter also slated to be in Friday.
Meanwhile, as budgeteers continued negotiations behind the scenes, legislators have sent several bills to Pritzker’s desk.
On Thursday, the House approved legislation mandating that public elementary and high schools include a unit on Native American history. They also approved legislation that would create a commission to explore the creation of a new state flag.
In the Senate on Thursday, lawmakers approved legislation that would allow businesses to have gender-neutral multi-occupancy restrooms. It later passed the House on Friday. The debate in both chambers was colorful.
State Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, told lawmakers that the bill would lead to violence, adding that if a man went into the same restroom as his 10-year-old daughter, he would “beat the living piss out of them.”
“This is gonna cause violence, and it’s gonna cause violence from dads like me,” he added.
In the House the following day, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, admonished Anderson for his remarks.
“Quite frankly, what happened yesterday in this building, when one of our colleagues threatens physical violence as a result of this bill, that is what we should be concerned about,” Cassidy said.
“That is what puts people at risk, that is putting my community in danger,” she said. “Open season on trans people in bathrooms is what that did.”
Legislators also voted to lift the 35-year-old moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants. Specifically, it would allow for development of small modular nuclear reactors, which operate at a much lesser scale than traditional reactors.
Those are all headed to Pritzker’s desk.
Contact Brenden Moore at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13
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May 20, 2023 at 08:08AM