SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate on Thursday gave Gov. Pat Quinn vast authority to manage the state budget, but didn’t give him the authority to borrow almost $4 billion to help pay the state’s bills.
Now, the budget approved by lawmakers and awaiting Quinn’s final review is missing a key component, leaving the governor to try to shuffle money around state government or make deep cuts in the coming months.
The state is already billions of dollars behind paying its bills, leaving schools, universities and vendors waiting for months to get checks.
“It’s just completely utter disaster,” said State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, Quinn’s Republican opponent in the governor’s race.
Democrats in the House on Wednesday approved a plan to take out loans to pay into the state employee retirement system and otherwise help the state combat a $13 billion deficit.
But the Senate left Springfield on Thursday without agreeing to go along. Most Republicans opposed the borrowing plan, including Brady. And not enough Democrats supported it to approve.
“It poses a huge cash-flow problem,” Senate President John Cullerton said of not having $4 billion in loans.
Some Democrats could have seen the sending the state deeper into debt as a politically risky move heading into the November elections.
The political implications of tough decisions to repair the state budget also played a role in killing plans to both cut the budget more significantly and raise taxes in order to avoid the cuts.
Cullerton said the loan plan needed Republican support before it could move forward.
State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, is in favor of borrowing. He said he was contacted by Quinn, although he wouldn’t specify what was discussed.
“My Republican friends have chosen inaction rather than action,” he said. “I don’t know what world people live in where you can just do nothing.”
But Republicans contend the pension borrowing plan only pushes the state’s fiscal problems into the future.
“There are a lot of other things that we could have considered in the last three months. We could have addressed waste, fraud and abuse,” said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon.
The Senate could reconvene in the coming months to deal with the pension borrowing plan if enough members change their minds.
Senators did approve legislation giving Quinn the authority to make the biggest budget decisions. Cullerton called it a “thankless task.”
The plan also denies lawmakers a raise this year, forces them to take unpaid furlough days and reduces the allowance they get paid for each session day by 20 percent.
The legislation that gives Quinn extraordinary budget powers repeals most of those powers in January of next year, before the next Illinois governor is set to be sworn in.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose chamber narrowly approved the borrowing plan a day before, warned “life would be more difficult for the governor and comptroller” if the Senate doesn’t do the same.
“Without the borrowing to make the pension payment, the pension payments get in line with everybody else,” Madigan said. “They become a matter for the governor and the comptroller in terms of managing the cash-flow.”
Madigan would not specify when the House would return, if at all. He said it largely depends on if the Senate decided to approve the borrowing measure.