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US: Illinois House opts for another stopgap budget amid impasse

The Illinois House of Representatives. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Illinois House passed US$817 million in spending on Thursday to provide “lifeline” funding to higher education, social service and health programmes starved for cash due to the state’s budget impasse.

The measure passed in a 64-45 vote over Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s opposition to another stopgap spending measure. A six-month temporary budget for the fiscal year, which ends on June 30, expired on Dec 31.

Illinois is limping towards the end of a second-straight fiscal year without a complete budget due to a stalemate between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature. The country’s fifth-largest state has been operating on continuing appropriations and court-ordered spending, while its pile of unpaid bills reached nearly US$13 billion on Wednesday.

The bill would tap money from the state’s commitment to human services and education assistance funds to direct US$258 million to pay for dozens of programmes, including senior meals and crime prevention, and indigent burials. Another US$559 million would go to state universities, community colleges, and educational grants for low-income students.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic State Representative Greg Harris, said the so-called lifeline measure would allow social service organisations and state universities “to continue to exist.”

He cited a United Way survey released on Wednesday which showed 69 percent of social service agencies had received no payments or partial payments from the state so far in fiscal 2017, forcing 49 percent of the agencies to reduce services.

He said universities had resorted to programme cuts and layoffs.

Republican lawmakers contended passage of a stopgap measure would take the pressure off the legislature to finally pass a full budget.

“The reality is we don’t do things around here without pressure,” Republican State Representative Steven Andersson said.

The measure will now head to the Senate, which is on break until April 25. A spokesman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the bill would be reviewed.

Earlier on Thursday, Rauner voiced opposition to another stopgap budget.

“We’ve been doing that for decades, and it’s created the crisis and mess we’re in,” he told reporters in Decatur. “That’s a failure to do stopgaps. Let’s do a balanced budget so the problem is fixed.”

After a bipartisan bill package aimed at ending the impasse stalled in the Senate last month, credit rating agencies warned Illinois’ credit ratings – the lowest among the 50 states – could sink even lower.

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