SPRINGFIELD – State legislators departed from the Capitol Thursday and left Gov. Pat Quinn with a budget mess – but with extraordinary powers to deal with it.
Still, one major loose end remains: Senate approval of legislation to borrow as much as $4 billion, ostensibly to fund the state's five pension funds.
"The law in place says that we have appropriated the money for the pensions," Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said shortly after the Senate ended its session around 7 p.m. Thursday. "And the governor has indicated, however, that we don't have enough money to pay the pension funds and he's asking that we borrow it, as we did last year."
Cullerton admitted that there are not enough votes among Senate Democrats to pass the borrowing bill, and that he needs Republican votes. But no Republicans stepped forward Thursday to support the legislation.
Earlier this week in the House, two Republicans – Bill Black of Danville and Bob Biggins of Elmhurst – joined with Democrats to pass the borrowing legislation.
"We're going to hope to get some bipartisanship, like we did last year and like they did in the House," Cullerton said.
Both the House and Senate adjourned until the call of their leaders, meaning lawmakers could be called back as early as this weekend or as late as November. Most likely, senators said, is a return sometime in June before the new fiscal year begins.
In one last blast of votes, senators approved a number of budget-related items Thursday including:
– A tax amnesty program that was approved 53-1 with only Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, the Republican candidate for governor, voting no. The legislation, projected to bring in an estimated $250 million, would allow tardy taxpayers to repay their state taxes next fall for debts accumulate between June 30, 2002 and July 1, 2009.
– Giving the governor extraordinary budget powers in an emergency budget act. It would allow the governor to sweep funds from restricted state accounts and sell off half of the anticipated money from the national tobacco settlement (worth about $1.2 billion). It also would require the governor to give quarterly statements about state spending to the Legislature. Further, it would eliminate cost of living adjustments for lawmakers and other officials next year; require them, constitutional officers and other top officials to take 12 furlough days next year and reduce per diem payments for legislators from $139 to $111 and mileage payments from 50 cents a mile to 39 cents.
The House also approved the emergency budget act Thursday.
– A back-to-school sales tax holiday in August that Republicans have said will cost the state $50 million. It passed 47-8.
"Why are you giving away more money?" asked Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora. "We can't afford to do this."
"Sometimes you have to spend money to make money," replied Sen. Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlinville.