SPRINGFIELD -- Democrats began rolling out their own spending plan Monday, saying they oppose Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's attempt to tie budget talks to his pro-business agenda.
Meeting on Memorial Day as part of the final week of the spring legislative session, the Illinois House began hearing testimony on a pieces of a budget that remains an estimated $4 billion out of whack.
The plan would result in more money for public schools, a lesser cut for state universities, reductions to human service programs and a slight increase for the state's prison system.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, told reporters that Democrats will approve the budget blueprint and then begin searching for some kind of tax increase to close the gap.
The maneuvering signaled that the Legislature could be headed toward a lengthy overtime session if Rauner blocks the budget with his veto pen and insists on putting some of his first-year initiatives into law over the objections of labor unions and Democrats.
Madigan, speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, said Democrats shouldn't be criticized for proposing an unbalanced budget because the Republican governor's budget proposal also was flawed. The plan unveiled by Rauner in February plan relied on $2.2 billion in savings from a pension overhaul that couldn't be counted on in the fiscal year beginning July 1, Madigan said.
"We will publicly acknowledge we don't have the money to pay for this budget," Madigan said. "There should be cuts. But there also should be new money."
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said Democrats appear ready to end the regular spring session with either an unbalanced budget or a tax hike, with none of the pro-business reforms the governor has been touting for months.
"Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls are walking away from the negotiating table and refusing to compromise on critical reforms needed to turn around Illinois," Trover said.
Rauner hasn't ruled out a tax hike, but he wants the House and Senate to enact a property tax freeze, changes to worker compensation laws and changes to the laws governing lawsuits.
He also is seeking approval of a constitutional amendment to enact term limits and redistricting reforms.
Republicans say the changes being sought by the governor will put Illinois on a better path.
“These individual bills provide an opportunity to actually turn our state around,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. “The status quo of failure has to end, and this is a road map to make that happen.”
Democrats complained that the governor took until last week to introduce his proposals in writing.
"I think that's not enough time to look at that and implement it into our budget process," said state Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale.
Madigan said the focus of the final week should be on getting a budget in place.
"I don't plan to bring nonbudget issues into the budget-making process," Madigan said. "What he's attempting to do is mix apples with oranges."
The budget floated Monday would avoid some of the deep cuts Rauner had sought in the proposal he introduced in February.
As first reported by the Lee Enterprises Springfield Bureau last week, state aid for universities, for example, would be cut by an average of 6.5 percent, rather than the 31.5 percent under Rauner's plan.
"I don't think a 31.5 percent cut at universities is appropriate," said state Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago, who chairs a House budget committee overseeing university spending.
"We will not turn our backs on the middle class or support reckless budgets that destroy middle-class families," Madigan said.
The Democrat budget boosts funding for the state's Monetary Award Program, or MAP, which provides tuition assistance for low-income college students.
Rauner had sought to spend $373 million for MAP grants. The Democratic blueprint calls for $397 million, boosting the number of students receiving the grants by 15,000.
The Democratic proposal also includes $1.1 million for a juvenile methamphetamine program in Franklin County. Money for the pilot program had been jeopardy.
State Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, criticized Democrats on a House budget panel for voting "yes" on the Illinois Department of Corrections budget and then leaving without hearing any of the Republican questions.
“This is 7 or 8 percent of the budget … So many of the things that we do are mandatorily or constitutionally required and yet we had members get up and walk out. They don’t have a clue about this budget. And that should just put this whole process this year in perspective. Vote how the speaker says and move on,” Reis said.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, argued that the budget-making process is far from over.
"The word should go out: This is not going to be the budget at the end of the day," said Brady, whose district includes Illinois State University.