On the last day of May, the Illinois legislature adjourned for the 2017 session. Although the start of the session saw a flurry of activity and optimism that the budget stalemate might end and key system reforms might be adopted, the session ended as it has the last few years, with not much to show.
Legislators returned to Springfield in January with lofty goals of ending the two year budget crisis through the Grand Bargain bill package. The Grand Bargain package centered around the passage of twelve bills on various topics, including taxes, school funding, pension reform and workers’ comp. And in attempt to get the measures through, the Senate attached the success of one on the success of all – meaning all bills must pass for any one to become effective.
As the session got underway, Senators began voting on the bill package, however, they hit their first road bump early on. While Democrats were ready to move forward, Senate Republicans felt the package was not ready for a vote, and the House had made no indications they would even pass the 12 bills if they got to them. The Grand Bargain was then sidelined for much of the remainder of the session. Senators refocused their attention on other topics and even discussed unlinking the various bills, so that they could push through at least some of the reforms.
Meanwhile, in the House, seeing the likely failure of the Grand Bargain, House Democrats began to move forward with their own workers’ comp reform bill. HB 2525, which passed the House in March, would establish a closed drug formulary, alter the medical fee schedule, and look to regulate insurance rates in Illinois, a state with some of the highest in the country. But when the bill was sent to the Senate, it sat untouched for months.
Then, as session was creeping towards the finish line, the Grand Bargain was revived. In early May, Democratic Senators decided it was time to get moving and they were ready for a vote, but the Republicans felt some of the bills still needed work. As the days ticked on, the Senate decided to put the Grand Bargain to a vote with little to no Republican support. The chamber was able to pass some of the bills, including pension reform, funding to pay down the state’s unpaid bills, and even a $36.5 billion spending plan, other key initiatives failed, such as raised taxes and necessary cuts to make the spending plan a reality.
In a last ditch effort to get something done in the last week of session, the Senate took up a handful of bills from the house, including HB 2525, the workers' comp reform bill. They made a few amendments and sent it back to the House for their approval - which the House quickly gave, but the Governor has made clear his intentions to veto it.
On May 31, the Illinois legislature adjourned, without a budget, without workers’ comp reform and staring year three without a budget dead in the eye. Illinois now has $14.5 billion in unpaid bills, continues to accrue an estimated $11 million in debt each day, and faces a $6 billion annual deficit. Illinois is now poised for a Special Session this June to attempt a budget deal, but with party lines drawn, optimism is low.
Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan selected four members of his party to meet with the Governor and his team, in an attempt to restart budget negotiations. However, most people see it more as a way to save face more than a realistic attempt at helping get Illinois out of the hole it’s in.
Now all anyone can do is wait for the Special Session to be called and cross their fingers things actually get moving, but in the meantime, Illinois remains without a budget.