GOP, Democrats say progress made in Illinois budget talks

Gov. Bruce Rauner and majority Democrats were pushing competing plans to ensure schools stay open and government operations continue, though there were signs late Tuesday that the two sides could reach a deal on stopgap spending as Illinois approaches a second year without a full state budget.
    
Legislative leaders left a nearly three-hour meeting with the Republican governor saying they had made progress and would meet again Wednesday morning.
    
None would reveal details of their discussions, but Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan said he was "optimistic that we can settle a whole host of problems," and Senate President John Cullerton told reporters it’s "exciting that we’re this close."
    
Republican House leader Jim Durkin and Senate leader Christine Radogno agreed it was a good discussion, though Radogno said, "Caution is always in order."
    
Rauner’s office had no comment.
    
The major sticking point for lawmakers returning to Springfield on Wednesday has been how much to increase money for education, and in particular for the financially struggling Chicago Public Schools. Democrats filed legislation Tuesday that would send the district almost $400 million more next year, including money to help pay for teacher pensions. They say it’s a matter of fairness because the state covers pension costs for all other Illinois school districts.
    
Rauner says the money amounts to a "bailout."
    
"I have said it before, and I say it again today: We must not bail out a broken system that refuses to change the way it does business," he said.
    
Rauner’s repeated criticism drew a sharp response from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said Rauner has "wasted" 18 months in office by pushing for pro-business measures, such as one to curb union influence, rather than fixing a school funding formula that rewards wealthy children and penalizes poor kids.
    
Republicans and Senate Democrats on Tuesday filed rival spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins Friday. They include at least one area of agreement: spending $1 billion for higher education, including $151 million to pay for grants to help college students pay tuition for spring semester 2016.
    
Here’s a look at the measures:
    
SENATE DEMOCRATS
    
-Full-year school funding plan increases state aid for elementary and secondary education by about $760 million, with no district losing money.
    
-The largest increase by dollar amount is for CPS, which would receive $287 million more in general state aid – a 30 percent increase over the current year. About three dozen of Illinois’ roughly 800 school districts receive a larger percentage increase.
    
-Provides $112 million to help cover the employer contribution for Chicago teacher pensions.
    
-Authorizes more than $680 million for state operations, such as overdue utility bills and repairs to state vehicles. The largest portion of the money would go to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
    
-Provides more than $650 million for human services including AIDS support, programs to help seniors and addiction treatment.
    
-A measure in the House is expected to provide money for road construction and local governments’ share of gas tax revenues.
    
REPUBLICANS
    
-Full-year education plan increases funding for schools by more than $240 million, with no district losing money.
    
-Doesn’t include money for Chicago teacher pensions or an increase in state aid for CPS.
    
-Provides $729 million for state agencies to cover the cost of operating prisons, veterans’ homes and other facilities and to pay for road maintenance and repair, and gas and repairs for Illinois State Police vehicles.
    
-Allocates $650 million for human services, including mental health care and autism programs.
    
-Authorizes spending for road and school construction, and provides money for local governments.
    
-Does not include any of the pro-business legislation Rauner has been advocating, such as curbs to labor unions’ collective bargaining rights or term limits for lawmakers.
 

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