Are Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly trying to sneak a back-door pay raise for themselves into next year’s budget?

That’s the belief of Republicans, who have filed their own bill to stop it.

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, says a clause buried in a budget bill backed by Democrats that eliminates unpaid furlough days for lawmakers and accepts a cost of living adjustment on salaries amounts to a hefty raise that they don’t deserve.

Lawmakers currently are required to take one unpaid furlough day per month.

From a press release Thursday morning:

“First, Democrats broke their promise by going back on their pledge to let the income tax hike expire,” Rep. Kay said. “As if that wasn’t enough, they’re rushing through budget bills to spend more than the bipartisan revenue number we agreed to earlier this spring – to the tune of $2.7 Billion and climbing. Now, on top of that, they’re using an unprecedented series of politically-motivated budget maneuvers to slip in a pay raise for themselves before they go home for the summer. As usual, their priorities are in the wrong place. It’s beyond reckless and irresponsible. ”

The Democrats’ budget requires zero furlough days for legislators and accepts the COLA for FY 15; amounting to a salary increase of approximately 4.6%.

Kay introduced a bill (House Bill 6235) that maintains one unpaid furlough day per month for lawmakers and rejects the cost of living increase for fiscal year 2015. He says the 12 unpaid furlough days per year. He put the savings to taxpayers at $618,000 in the 2015 budget year.


 

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Also on the Republican budget front, Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan this week for an official ruling on whether the Democrats’ budget proposal – which is based on the 2011 temporary tax increase being made permanent – violates the state constitution.

Lawmakers have to pass a budget by May 31. But to properly fund the budget now supported by Democratic leadership, the General Assembly also must to vote to extend the 2011 tax increase beyond its expiration at the end of this calendar year. With several House Democrats reluctant to support or outright opposed to extending the tax increase – and facing reelection in November – the tax increase extension is far from certain.

Thus the Democratic budget proposal spends more money than the state will have next year under the current income tax schedule.

That, Republicans contend, violates the Illinois Constitution, which states: “Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.”

Sullivan wrote a similar letter to Madigan in February asking about the constitutionality of the legislature passing a six-month budget. Doing so would allow Democrats to postpone a tax increase vote until after the November elections, most likely during the January lame duck session when a simple majority could enact the tax increase extension. (From June 1 to Dec. 31, it takes three-fifths majority votes to pass laws that will go into effect before the start of the next fiscal year.)

It also would let Democrats see who wins the gubernatorial election before deciding on the tax increase. If Bruce Rauner wins, the General Assembly could opt to let him deal with the consequences of an estimated $1.8 billion shortfall if tax rates drop.

We discuss in detail this standoff over state finances here. It boils down to this: Democrats say the state absolutely needs the tax increase because state government is already cut to the bone and spending can’t be reduced any more. Republicans, including Rauner, say they can make cuts to make up for the $1.8 billion that will be lost in the 2015 budget year (which includes six months at the current, 5-percent income tax and six months at the reduced, 3.75-percent rate). But they won’t say where these savings will come from.

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, but that’s territory neither side appears interested in exploring.

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