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Balanced budgets ain't what they used to be; session lurches to partial conclusion

November 11, 2010
Perhaps illustrating that the Illinois Constitution has become more of "recommended guidelines" document rather than the highest law of the land, the House and Senate adjourned May 27 without passing a balanced budget. Spending and borrowing bills were passed but the final budget is billions of dollars out of balance, in spite of the Constitutional mandate against it.

The biggest hole appeared when the Senate could not muster the votes to pass a pension borrowing bill that would have provided the cash for this year’s required pension payments. Senate Bill 3514 could not find the 36 Democratic votes needed for passage after the measure already passed with a bare minimum 71 votes in the House.

House Democrats were able to pry two Republicans away from their caucus to provide the margin needed. But in the Senate, Republicans united in their opposition to the borrowing and were joined by at least two Senate Democrats, denying President John Cullerton the super-majority he needed to pass the bill.

Even if the pension borrowing had passed, the remaining budget plan was still at least $2 billion out of balance. In addition, the plan does not call for decreasing the backlog of unpaid bills--$6 billion worth - accumulated by the state in the last fiscal year. Instead, authority has been given to Gov. Pat Quinn to use more revenues from the coming fiscal year to pay last year’s bills.

It is unclear whether legislators will return to Springfield to finish work on the budget. Cullerton said that the Senate would return in a few weeks time, but many observers believe that any additional work on the budget won’t occur until after the November elections.