Lawmakers deny presidential library, fund new school in Madigan’s ward
BY DAVE McKINNEY AND ELISE DISMER Staff Reporters May 30, 2014 10:49PM
Updated: July 1, 2014 7:01AM
SPRINGFIELD-State lawmakers approved a budget Friday that shortchanged a presidential library for President Barack Obama, gives House Speaker Michael Madigan a brand-new $35 million grade school in his ward and managed to unite Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP rival Bruce Rauner on one thing.
Both candidates for governor disavowed the way Democrats at the Capitol carved up the state’s budget pie.
The hectic final day of the spring legislative session also handed Mayor Rahm Emanuel a possible $50 million infusion from increased city phone taxes that could help stave off a meltdown in two city-employee pension funds.
But Emanuel’s potential 2016 opponent, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, came up empty-handed as her bid to pass a Cook County pension-reform package stalled along with Madigan’s proposed takeover of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, abolition of a state charter school commission and an effort to revamp how Illinois’ public schools are funded.
Completion of the spring session marks the real launch of the fall gubernatorial race between Quinn and Rauner, but oddly they appeared to be on the same side when it came to beating up the $35.7 billion budget that lawmakers produced.
For Quinn, that spending plan didn’t include what had been a pair of cornerstones of his spring budget speech: extending 2011 temporary income tax hikes that expire in January and providing homeowners with $500 property-tax rebate checks.
“In March, I submitted a balanced budget plan that continued paying down the state’s bills, protected education and public safety and secured Illinois’ long-term financial future,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “Instead, the General Assembly sent me an incomplete budget that does not pay down the bills but instead postpones the tough decisions.”
The Democratic-led chambers tucked in language that safeguards expensive, ongoing Capitol renovations that the governor has managed until now to block and insulated themselves from Quinn repeating his move from last year when he attempted to cut legislative pay, a move that was only undone after court intervention.
“At the same time, the politicians in charge of Springfield again refused to make the structural reforms needed to fix state government. Instead, they passed the same type of broken, dishonest budget that career politicians in Illinois have been passing for years,” Rauner said in a statement. “This phony budget is an unsurprising, yet tragic, conclusion to five years of failure under Pat Quinn.”
Rauner’s pointed barbs came despite the fact he still hasn’t produced a budget framework of his own after months of prodding from Quinn and reporters. Ironically, the spending plan now bound to the governor contains $500,000 in reappropriated funds for a YMCA in Chicago that bears his name, though he has no financial stake in the Southwest Side facility beyond his philanthropic contributions.
The budget also included language that authorizes $35 million in school construction in Chicago, funds that will be used to pay for a 1,200 student school in Madigan’s political home turf in the 13th Ward near Midway Airport.
“It’s a new school that’s planned,” Madigan said after the House adjourned shortly before 8 p.m. Friday.
Asked if it would be named in his honor, the longtime speaker smiled and said, “It doesn’t have a name. It’s a brand new building…. There’s severe overcrowding on the southwest side of Chicago.”
Madigan managed to bring home the bacon for his constituents on the Southwest Side but came up dry in his bid to win legislative approval of $100 million in seed money to persuade planners of Obama’s presidential library to locate the facility in Illinois.
After getting out of a House committee, the speaker’s offering ran into opposition from Republicans who, while welcoming of an Obama library to Illinois, thought it should be privately financed without state funds. Madigan wound up not calling his legislation for a floor vote.
Earlier in the day Friday, Senate Republicans warned that the spending package that Democrats put together was essentially a Trojan horse designed to bring about an income-tax extension in January if Quinn defeats Rauner in November.
A $2 billion budget shortfall could open in the upcoming fiscal year if tax rates fall on schedule in January, when individual income tax rates roll back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent and corporate income tax rates go from 7 percent to 4.8 percent.
“We’ve seen this playbook before,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. “I believe that taxpayers have won the battle, in that they have stalled the continuation of the income tax increase, which was promised to be temporary, but they haven’t won the war.”
Madigan again grinned broadly and seemed to goad his political opponents when asked if a lame-duck session tax-increase extension lay in the offing next January.
“Are they going to call it? Are they going to sponsor it?” the speaker said.
Lawmakers may have refused to give Quinn his income-tax extension, they did give Emanuel a potential tax hike he was seeking.
Under legislation that was whisked through the General Assembly in a matter of hours Friday, lawmakers authorized the city to bump up monthly telephone taxes by 56 percent from $2.50 a month to $3.90.
The move, if signed into law by Quinn and implemented by the City Council, could mean a $50 million annual windfall for the city. The mayor could use that money to stave off a $250 million property-tax hike he proposed over five years to bail out two city pension funds and confront at least part of a $600 million tab the city has next year in its police and fire pension funds.
Preckwinkle, meanwhile, will be on her own for at least the short-term in addressing Cook County’s pension problems. Her bid to raise retirement ages and employee pension premiums ran into a buzz saw in the House, driven in part by GOP opposition to her failure to cut out compounding cost-of-living increases for retirees, which were key components of state and city pension-reform packages that passed the Legislature previously.
“Pension reform is critical to protect the retirement security of our workers, the county’s bond ratings and the interests of taxpayers in eliminating $6.5 billion in unfunded pension debt,” Preckwinkle said in a prepared statement, announcing her decision to throw in the towel for the spring. “I look forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to adopt this sound plan of reforms later this year.”
A flurry of other bills were passed and poised to head to Quinn’s desk, including an election omnibus package and legislation that would allow parents of Chicago schoolchildren who use Safe Passage routes to recoup part of their costs in transporting their children to school.
Lawmakers also thickened the Nov. 4 ballot by adding yet another advisory referendum to the mix, this one dealing with the question of whether health insurers should be forced to cover the cost of contraception.
That’s been the law in Illinois since 2004, but proponents argued gauging voter sentiment on the issue could be important if federal courts wind up tossing a piece of the Affordable Care Act that mandates contraception coverage.
But Republicans at the Statehouse smelled a rat.
“This is yet another misuse of public questions to gin up the vote come November,” said Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove.
The measure marks the third advisory referendum the Democratic-led Legislature has presented to the governor. The others ask voters about increasing the minimum wage and imposing a 3-percent tax on millionaires.
Two other constitutional amendments have been put on the ballot by state lawmakers. They include questions dealing with voter suppression and victims’ rights.
The State Board of Elections also is evaluating two other possible constitutional amendments that are the result of voter-led initiatives. One deals, in part, with term limits for state legislators. The other would change how Illinois draws its legislative and congressional maps.