Taking Stock of Failure, Finding Ray of Hope From 2016 Legislative Session

For the second straight year, the Illinois General Assembly left Springfield this week without a budget in place for fiscal year that starts July 1.

A year ago, when Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who control the Legislature first deadlocked over the FY 2016 budget, the situation today was unthinkable. A full year without any plan for state spending and revenue was unprecedented.

But also unimaginable a year ago was that Rauner and the Democrats would enter FY 2017 not only without a balanced budget, but with a goal that in effect will prolong the budget standoff through calendar year 2016.

After nearly a year of rejecting pursuit of short-term budget fixes -- which he said would take pressure off for business and political reforms -- Rauner on Memorial Day abruptly changed course. He endorsed a stopgap budget to carry state government through 2016 and urged House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to pass a stand-alone K-12 school funding bill so school districts statewide can be assured of opening on time in the fall.

A few days after Democrats in the House rushed to approve a budget from Madigan that was $7 billion out of balance, Cullerton attempted to pass it in the Senate, where it got a very unfriendly reception. Republicans railed against its massive unfunded spending while many Democrats rejected it both for its imbalance and the way Madigan forced it through the House.

In an attempt to appease Rauner while also backing him into a corner, the Senate in the final minutes of the spring session passed a stand-alone K-12 bill, but it increased school funding by an astounding $900 million. That was far more than Rauner's original proposal, which increased funding by only $120 million. It passed in the Senate but failed miserably in the House, where suburban representatives questioned why $475 million of the increase would go to Chicago Public Schools.

Thus our lawmakers left Springfield with neither a state budget nor a school budget in place.

In the two days that followed the session's collapse, Rauner hit the road on a tour of Illinois to gin up support for a "clean" school funding bill and a broader, stopgap plan to get state government through the calendar year. In the process, he did some Chicago bashing that probably isn't a healthy addition to the process.

We review the final days of the legislative session and look at what's to come on this week's "Only in Illinois." Despite all the bad news, we end this edition on a positive note thanks to the closing speeches of Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

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