- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois Senate Republicans gave Democrats a list of conditions Wednesday that must be met before they’ll sign off on a budget, an early signal of the tense negotiations ahead as lawmakers scramble to fill an anticipated $3 billion gap in state revenues.

Answering a challenge from Democrats to present a counter plan, the GOP lawmakers announced their list of demands Wednesday at a Capitol news conference. Earlier this week, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton warned of a $3 billion budget hole next year. That includes a $1.6 billion revenue dip if the state’s temporary income tax increase expires as scheduled in January 2015, as well as about $1.3 billion in increased costs to required programs and services.

“If they want us to work with them, there are (several) things they’re going to have to recognize and commit to,” Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said, noting numerous GOP budget proposals have been “mocked” and “buried in committee” in past years.

Among the laundry list of items Republicans want in place are rolling back the tax increase as promised, implementing additional worker compensation reforms and instituting a moratorium on the creation of new state programs or the expansion of existing ones. They also want a proposal for a shift to a graduated income tax, essentially making the wealthy pay more, taken off the table.

Democrats have veto-proof control of both legislative chambers as well as the governor’s mansion. Republicans said Wednesday that they reject Democrats’ political posturing, criticizing Gov. Pat Quinn’s postponement of his annual budget address until after the March 26 primary.

However, they also used the state’s bleak fiscal picture as reason to elect a Republican governor in November.

“These facts make the case for a Republican governor better than anything we could say,” said state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.

Cullerton has said slashing $3 billion would translate into roughly 27 percent across-the-board cuts. In education that could mean thousands of teacher layoffs. He said savings from Illinois’ new pension overhaul, which faces legal challenges, wouldn’t factor into the budget and he predicted difficult choices ahead.

The Senate president didn’t offer his own ideas, aside from saying everything is on the table. That includes extending an income tax increase that expires in January 2015. He said Republican gubernatorial candidates should be more active in budgeting, especially since the plan lawmakers have to approve by the end of May extends into 2015. The four-way GOP field includes Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, businessman Bruce Rauner and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, none of whom have given outlines on precisely what they’d cut to make up the budget gap if the tax increase is not extended.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat who faces one lesser-known primary challenger, has said he needed time to develop a five-year spending blueprint. His office says governors have pushed back budget speeches in the past.

State budget experts and officials from the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs warned lawmakers Wednesday evening about the difficult choices ahead in laying out the budget this spring and beyond, regardless of whether the tax increase is extended.

“Getting fiscal balance in Illinois is going to be a long term project. It’s going to require some restraint on the spending side and perhaps more revenue,” Institute professor David Merriman told members of a Senate committee.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat, described the year ahead as a “desperate fiscal situation.”

“It behooves us all to work together,” Jacobs said.


Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kerrylester

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