CHICAGO – Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a full-year state budget Monday 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.”
The Republican, who’s seeking his second term this fall, was joined by legislators from both parties at a bill signing ceremony where they lauded the $38.5 billion spending plan as balanced and bipartisan.
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 so-called “turnaround agenda,” which included reducing regulations on business and weakening labor unions.
That prompted a more than two-year state budget impasse and massive cuts to social services, higher education and other areas.
The state’s already dismal credit rating dropped further, and debt piled up by the billions.
“Rauner’s decision to wait for an election year before finally signing a budget is just one more insult to the people of this state,” DGA spokesman Sam Salustro said. “Bruce Rauner forced Illinois to endure three years of budget crises and voters want to know, what was the point?”
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.
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.