Illinois lawmakers approve stopgap budget deal

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (KPLR) - After 18 months of budget battles, Illinois finally has a stopgap spending measure in place. Some lawmakers in the state capital said Illinois was close to falling off a financial cliff because it had operated without a state budget for the year.

The new financial year begins Friday. Some school districts had threatened school would not open in August unless they had an education appropriation bill.

The compromise omnibus bill had the support of legislative leaders and Governor Bruce Rauner.

It will provide a 12-month budget for public schools across Illinois, but only six months of revenue for state departments. That means legislators will have to return later this year to create a budget for the spring and early summer of 2017.

Rauner said he remained true to his principles, including his refusal to support a budget that was not balanced and his decision not to approve any tax hikes until lawmakers agreed on how to solve the state's serious pension shortfall.

The Republican governor achieved a 12-month budget for public schools that provides full funding levels to school districts for the first time in seven years. It was also done without a "bailout" for Chicago schools. At one point, that was a demand from the House Speaker Michael Madigan
as a condition to achieve Democratic Party support for a statewide budget.

This spring, Illinois lawmakers worked on special issues groups trying to form compromises and develop a spending plan that would pass.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) praised the governor for agreeing to back away from linking his demand for government reforms to the budget plan. Hoffman said that permitted the compromise to be developed. Hoffman said Rauner has proposed some reforms, including changes to the Illinois workers' compensation law, which he believes could pass.

The two parties had been at a stalemate over state spending for nearly 18 months. On Thursday, members said both sides had participated in compromising. They will return after the November election to continue work on the state pension crisis and financing the last six months the new budget year.

The new spending plan provides funding to cover critical state operations including the payment of the utilities used at state prisons and mental health centers as well as gasoline and vehicle repairs for vehicles driven by the Illinois State troopers.

Construction projects funded through IDOT will not shut down on Friday after all. The bill also calls for the resumption of some construction projects which had been suspended. That means 25,000 construction workers will remain on the job this summer. The legislation also restores funds spent by state universities to finance student grant programs which the state had failed to cover. Some universities had already cut large numbers of employees.

Despite the strong vote for the bipartisan compromise, critics predict Illinois will continue to suffer job losses and low financial ratings because of the inaction by lawmakers over the past 12 months.

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