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Caucus leaders narrow budget gap as deadline nears

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — State lawmakers say they are on track to have a balanced full-year budget before the Thursday deadline, but one remaining question is whether it will get the governor’s support.

After canceling session Saturday and Sunday, legislative leaders continued to craft the budget. Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans, who’s been involved in crafting the budget, said Monday that the four caucus leaders are close. She said she couldn’t predict whether Gov. Bruce Rauner would sign it.

“I’m hoping that this is a budget that he will in fact be able to support,” Steans said. “I would never want to suggest or really think that I know what’s going on in his mind, and what not, but I certainly know that with our Republican colleagues, we’ve been doing this jointly with them, and I think that we have something that they can support.”

Rauner’s office said in an email: “Negotiations between our office and the legislative caucuses on a full-year budget are ongoing.” Rauner has said he wants a full-year budget that is balanced and contains no new taxes.

As to how close the Democratic majority and Republican minority are? Steans said they’re close.

“I would say you could see the end of the path here,” she said.

Sources said last week the two sides were off by several hundred million dollars. By Monday, that figure was less than $100 million.

It’s still unclear how much the state plans to spend, though, with the GOP leaders supporting a revenue estimate of $37.8 billion. Democrats have yet to put a revenue estimate figure on paper.

“When this is done, I think we had talked about doing a revenue [estimate] along with the budget and I’d like to believe we’d have that whole package,” Steans said.

Representatives from Illinois’ farming and manufacturing industries said they are optimistic.

Illinois Farm Bureau Director of State Legislation Kevin Semlow said it’ll be good to get certainty for agriculture programs like livestock management facilities, meat and poultry inspections and money to assist county fairs. He also said it appears there won’t be another income tax increase like the $5 billion one passed in 2017 to break a more than two-year budget stalemate.

“The good thing is they’ll live within their means and hopefully we won’t see any surprises and we’ll see what they put into the final budget,” Semlow said.

Illinois Manufacturers Association Vice President Mark Denzler said having a balanced budget would be welcomed, but there must be a plan to pay down the state’s highest-in-the-nation pension debt. Denzler also said other reforms were needed to make the state more attractive to manufacturers.

“We need to take proactive steps to reduce the cost of workers’ compensation,” Denzler said. “We need to ease burdensome rules and regulations, make it easier for companies to move to the state of Illinois.”

While legislative leaders said they are confident a balanced budget will pass before Thursday’s deadline, there’s no indication that there will be the kind of substantive economic reforms those in business community have been seeking.

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Caucus leaders narrow budget gap as deadline nears