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State

Rauner signs state budget, his 1st as Illinois governor

CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday signed a full-year state budget for the first time since he took office, forgoing the pro-business changes and tax cuts he demanded throughout a years-long budget impasse for an election-year plan he said “moves the state forward.”

Rauner,
who’s seeking his second term, was joined by legislators from both parties at a bill signing ceremony where they lauded the $38.5 billion spending plan.

Rauner acknowledged he was not able to persuade the Democratic-controlled Legislature to repeal the tax increase he’s railed against since legislators passed it last year.

But he said the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes other items he wanted, such as a pension buyout plan lawmakers say could save Illinois more than $400 million.

“This is a bipartisan compromise ... None of us got everything we were looking for,” Rauner said. “Today is a very good step forward.”

A spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker said the governor’s approval “won’t change the massive amounts of damage” Rauner did with the budget stalemate, while the Democratic Governors Association said his signature was “three years too late.”

Rauner deadlocked with majority Democrats after taking office in 2015 over his “turnaround agenda,” which included reducing regulations on business and weakening labor unions. The stalemate prompted a more than two-year state budget impasse and cuts to social services, higher education and other areas. The state’s credit rating dropped further, and debt piled up by the billions.

Rauner is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP governors seeking re-election this fall. The contest between the wealthy former private equity investor and Pritzker, an entrepreneur and heir to the Hyatt hotels fortune, already has broken spending records for an Illinois governor’s race.

Pritzker on Saturday reported giving his campaign an additional $25 million, bringing his total contributions to more than $100 million. Rauner has topped $75 million.

Sen. Bill Brady, the Republican leader in the Senate, said Monday that Rauner realized months ago that “Illinois needed a win.” He said Rauner instructed GOP lawmakers to come up with a balanced budget that didn’t rely on additional tax increases.

“This budget represents a compromise where neither side gets everything they wanted, yet where Democrats and Republicans came together to find common ground to avert another unnecessary budget crisis,” said State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, in a press statement. His district includes eastern La Salle County. “I voted ‘yes’ on this budget because it is balanced, contains no new taxes and provides additional funding for K-12 education.”

Rauner said the state is benefiting from higher-than-expected income tax revenue, which he attributed to the Republican tax plan passed by Congress. He didn’t mention the billions in additional revenue from the state income tax increase Democrats and some Republicans passed over his veto last year as part of a deal to end the budget stalemate.

The new budget includes several items lawmakers will be able to tout on the campaign trail.

They include an expanded tuition grant program aimed at keeping Illinois high school graduates from leaving the state for college, an increase in funding for K-12 education and money for improvements at the Quincy Veterans’ Home, where 13 residents have died from Legionnaires’ disease.

“I am also pleased K-12 education will receive an additional $350 million,” said Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, in a press statement, also touting an item which provides back pay owed to state workers in the Department of Corrections. “With the new funding formula now in full effect, this added funding will only strengthen our schools, and sets our students and teachers on an even better path with more opportunities. Investing in our children is the best investment we can make as a state.”

Though the budget had bipartisan support, not everyone was a fan of the budget, including State Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator. He voted “no,” he said, because the budget didn’t provide property tax relief, fails to address the state’s $6 billion bill backlog and doesn’t repeal the income tax increase.

“There are obviously a number of components in this plan that I support, however, I voted against the budget because it fails to fix many of the problems that still plague Illinois,” Long said in a press statement.

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