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Senate deal to end Illinois budget impasse grinds to halt
March 2, 2017 / 1:01 AM / 6 months ago

Senate deal to end Illinois budget impasse grinds to halt

CHICAGO, March 1 (Reuters) - Movement on a bipartisan deal to end Illinois' record budget impasse halted on Wednesday with the Democratic head of the state Senate pinning the blame on Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.

The Senate had been scheduled to continue voting on a package of legislation negotiated by Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Leader Christine Radogno in an effort to end Illinois' 20-month budget stalemate. The chamber passed some of the bills on Tuesday.

But Cullerton told the chamber on Wednesday that Rauner "decided to inject himself in this process and doesn't want this approved in this form," a move, he said, that removed Republican votes for the bills.

"For now we are in a holding pattern," Cullerton said, adding that the chamber would be ready to start voting again "as soon as we get word there is Republican support."

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said while some progress has been made, "more work is needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers."

Although the governor has not been involved in the Senate negotiations, his proposed fiscal 2018 budget incorporates aspects of the deal to fill a funding gap.

Illinois, the nation's fifth-largest state, is limping through a record-setting second consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget due to an ongoing feud between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature. A six-month fiscal 2017 budget expired on Dec. 31.

The state's pile of unpaid bills has mushroomed to $12 billion, while its unfunded pension liability has climbed to $130 billion. As a result, Illinois' credit ratings, which have been downgraded six times since January 2015, are the lowest among the 50 states.

The Senate's bipartisan legislative package includes bills to complete the fiscal 2017 budget, hike taxes, cut pension costs by about $1 billion annually, authorize borrowing to pay down the bill pile, expand casino gaming and freeze local property taxes.

All of the bills are tied to each other, so that if one failed to pass the entire package would go down.

While Cullerton expressed frustration with the governor's action during a post-session press conference, Radogno was more optimistic.

"I know the governor will be joining us to get in trying to get that done," she said on the Senate floor. "We need to get this done and done soon.” (Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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