- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois Senate Democrats passed a $3.8 billion funding bill for colleges and social services Thursday amid Republican objections that the state doesn’t have the money to fulfill the proposal’s promises.

Democrats used their considerable majority in the chamber to easily pass the bill on a 39-18 vote, which has already cleared the House. The proposal would appropriate nearly $1.9 billion to colleges and universities that have not received funding since July 1, when the current year budget should’ve taken effect.

The bill’s passage came on the day Comptroller Leslie Munger told a Senate committee that the state’s owes nearly $9 billion to vendors who provide services to the state. That tab could top $10 billion by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, Munger told lawmakers.

Much of the state’s spending is currently on auto-pilot because of court orders that demand that some services and functions be maintained. But the state otherwise has no authority to spend money because Democrats who control the Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner can’t agree on a spending plan.

Before the vote, Republican senators called the Democrats’ bill phony and delusional. One lawmaker told his colleagues that the state’s situation is akin to having $100 in a checking account with $7,000 in bills.

“That’s before the passage of this legislation. Nobody, nobody would look at someone who was managing their financial affairs that way and say that that even whiffs of responsibility,” said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

The budget standoff has led to layoffs at higher education institutions and the loss of tuition aid for low-income students. Social service programs across the state have also suffered, either closing or reducing the level of aid they provide.

Thursday’s funding bill would allocate $472.3 million to a variety of social service programs, including mental health and youth employment and help for the homeless. There’s also $563 million for programs for the elderly, like home delivered meals. And the tuition assistance program for low-income college students, known as the Monetary Award Program, would get $397 million.

Democrats described their proposal as a way to prioritize spending as revenue to the state comes in.

“There’s gotta be some change and sense of ownership and responsibility in all of us here,” said Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.

Rauner opposes the legislation and his budget office said there’s no money to pay for the proposal because there are no cuts or reforms in other areas of state government to free up dollars.

The bill goes back to the House, which doesn’t return from a break until April 4, and then would Rauner for an expected veto. If that happens, it’s possible for Democrats to try to override it.

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