Mark Fitton Aug. 12, 2015, 6:49am


SPRINGFIELD — The governor and House Democrats are going at it again.

This time, it’s over an attempt by the House Democrats to change Senate Bill 2042, the measure the Senate easily passed last week to authorize the state to spend about $4.8 billion in federal money otherwise being held up by the lack of state budget.

Rauner likes the legislation the way the Senate passed it. He says it’s a “clean” bill that would not affect the state’s budget deficit because the funds in question are federal.

A Democrat-backed House amendment to the measure that cleared committee on Tuesday would add about $1.5 billion in spending authority for services including Meals on Wheels, energy assistance, cancer screenings and aid to children with disabilities.

“We believe funding for these programs, which can be delivered despite the lack of a state budget in place, is needed before the measure is sent to the governor," House Speaker Michael Madigan said in a news release.

The governor sees it differently.

The administration called the amendment a “poison pill,” because it adds roughly $585 million of state general revenue fund spending in addition to the spending originally OK’d by the Senate.

“Unfortunately, Speaker Madigan continues to play games with taxpayer money and is trying to force through higher state spending with no budget,” said Rauner spokesman Lance Trover.

The administration believes the House effort “is identical to the spending in the unconstitutional, unbalanced budget that the Democrat majority passed earlier this summer,” according to a memo from Tim Nuding, the governor’s budget chief.

Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, presented the bill in committee.

Crespo said it does include about $585 million in general fund appropriations, as well as nearly $170 million from other state funds, including $165 million for the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program.

It also accesses roughly $635 million in additional federal funding, he said.

Crespo and other Democrats said some of that money is needed to leverage federal matching dollars, and all of it would go to worthy programs for the state’s most needy citizens.

Crespo argued failure to fund the programs would be “just morally wrong” and said the people who need the services are “not looking at the numbers. They want to make sure their needs are being taken care of — and we’ve been delaying this for quite some while.”

GOP members challenged the approach and asked several questions, among them:

- How could Democrats argue for more general fund spending without a state budget and without knowing how much of general fund money is already obligated elsewhere?

- Why would House Democrats add state spending to the Senate Bill, which — even if they can find 71 votes for passage — would have to return to the Senate for approval and, if successful there, face a likely veto by Rauner if amended?

- Why not speed the Senate bill, without amendments, through the House with Republican support and onto the governor’s desk for his promised signature, get the $4.8 billion in federal funds moving, then come back with a fresh bill for the increases?

“I think we should agree where we can agree — and that’s in the appropriation of federal funds — and continue to work on the general revenue fund side, and not tie these two (types of funding) together when they are at very different levels of completion,” said Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Rochelle.

Democrats answered the amount involved is relatively small — about 2 percent of anticipated general funds — and the need is great.

“The reality is these are critical services, life-and-death services, for these families,” said Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana.

With anywhere from 70 percent to 80 percent or of the state’s general revenue funds already committed, Democrats were rushing blindly forward, Republicans suggested.

“We need to understand how overall general revenue fund spending fits into the total picture,” Demmer said.

The bill passed out of the House General Services Appropriations Committee by a vote of 10 to 1 with four members voting present.

Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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