Illinois House set to vote on overriding budget vetoes

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Bruce Rauner implored lawmakers not to override his veto of a proposal to end Illinois' unprecedented budget impasse, calling the plan that includes a large income tax increase a "disaster" that will not solve the state's many financial problems.

"This is not just a slap in the face to Illinois taxpayers. This is a 2-by-4 smacked across the foreheads of the people of Illinois," he told reporters Wednesday at a bar on Chicago's far South Side. "This tax hike will solve none of our problems. In fact, in the long run, it will make our problems worse, not better."

The first-term Republican, who has been deadlocked with Democrats controlling the Legislature since taking office in 2015, said he would do "everything possible" to persuade House lawmakers, who are poised to take an override vote Thursday afternoon. That includes 15 House Republicans who broke ranks and voted in favor of the measure last weekend.

Rauner, a former venture capitalist whose massive personal wealth has largely funded the state Republican Party, would not elaborate on his tactics.

For two straight weeks, lawmakers have been meeting in a special session called specifically to deal with the budget. The session was capped by a flurry of activity on Tuesday, when the Senate sent a $36 billion spending plan to the governor funded with a permanent 32 percent income tax increase. Rauner rapidly vetoed it, only to have the Democratic-controlled Senate just as swiftly override him.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, scheduled his chamber's override vote for Thursday afternoon.

"House Democrats look forward to working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to begin healing the wounds of the last several years," he said in a statement that preceded Rauner's news conference.

But the House, which had approved the fiscal blueprint Sunday night with veto-proof majorities, has failed to summon enough members the last two days to take action. Fewer than 60 of the House's 118 members answered quorum calls on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, mentioned some members who were dealing with deaths of relatives or friends.

With a $6.2 billion annual deficit and $14.7 billion in overdue bills, disaster is around the corner. The United Way predicts the demise of 36 percent of all human-services agencies in Illinois by year's end. Billions of dollars in road construction work is shutting down. Public universities have been cut to the bone and face a loss of academic accreditation.

No other state has come close to Illinois when it comes to a budget impasse. The standoff entered a third straight year on July 1.

Credit-rating houses have threatened to downgrade the state's creditworthiness to "junk," signaling to investors that buying state debt is a highly speculative venture.

Rauner dismissed the possibility of another downgrade for Illinois, which already has the worst credit rating of any U.S. state.

"Don't listen to Wall Street. Don't listen to a bunch of politicians who want power," he said after local business owners talked about rising property taxes and residents going to nearby Indiana to shop and fill up on gas. "Listen to the people of Illinois."

A few House Republicans remained defiant Wednesday.

Rep. David Harris of the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights said he supported the budget plan because it is "immoral" for the state to carry a huge backlog of bills and pay $800 million in interest.

He compared the standoff to a game of chicken.

"If it requires some of us to blink to save our state, so be it," said Harris, the ranking Republican on both the Revenue and Finance and General Services Appropriations committees.

GOP floor leader Rep. Steven Andersson of Geneva, another Chicago suburb, also voted in favor of the budget. He said he has not had any contact with the governor's office. He does not plan to change his vote.

"The reason I voted yes hasn't changed. In fact, it's been reinforced," Andersson said, referring to a decision by some credit-rating agencies to hold off on any more downgrades while the Legislature was still at work.

On Wednesday, a major credit-rating agency put Illinois under review for a downgrade even if lawmakers override Rauner's veto. Moody's Investors Service said that while lawmakers have made progress, the package the House will consider Thursday does not address the state's massively underfunded pensions or do enough to pay down bills.

Rauner has sought pro-business reforms in conjunction with a budget, including a property tax freeze and term limits, and blames the state's failures on Democrats in power, largely Madigan. Democrats have said many of Rauner's reforms would hurt the middle class.

Government has limped along for two years on the strength of court-ordered spending, but the state comptroller says the treasury will be $185 million short of what's needed to cover basic services by August.