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Legislative Action

Veto session


The 1990 fall "veto" session, a post-election convening of the legislature that had once held the promise of significant action, concluded unspectacularly on November 30. Lawmakers did not assemble and pass a package that included financing to expand Chicago's McCormick Place convention center and money for downstate projects. Lawmakers did not consider extension of the income tax surcharge that will expire on June 30. Lawmakers did not restore a significant portion of Gov. James R. Thompson's budget cuts. Instead they accepted most of the governor's vetoes and departed.

An assortment of interests business, labor and civic groups pushed for the $1.4 billion McCormick Place expansion with its covered stadium for the Chicago Bears, dubbed "McDome." Supporters argued that without the expansion, the convention center would lose business and state and local governments would lose revenues. An effort to approve McDome would have necessitated other deals as non-Chicago lawmakers demanded projects for their constituents. The downstate offset never became necessary. Neither Gov.-elect Jim Edgar nor Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who faces a 1991 reelection campaign, pushed the project. Without a push lawmakers were not inclined to consider anything with a $1 billion-plus price tag.

The six-day session's major fights were over money. Lawmakers failed to override nearly all of Thompson's vetoes, including a controversial $160 million in spending delays that the governor had used his veto pen in July to insert into the budget. Lawmakers had spent much of the spring cutting elsewhere in the budget to eliminate nearly identical delays that Thompson had proposed in his March budget. Of the $178.9 million in general funds spending authority that Thompson axed in July, lawmakers put back only $1.5 million.

The hottest clash was over the Medicaid program where an Illinois Hospital Association-led coalition of business, labor and civic groups easily won House restoration of Thompson's veto of $56.2 million in spending authority for payments to doctors and hospitals that serve the poor. In the Senate, Thompson took the floor to rally Republicans to sustain his veto. Senate President Philip J. Rock (D-8, Oak Park) urged override: "We cannot force budget reconciliation on the backs of the poor, on the backs of medical care providers." With two members absent. Rock fell two votes short.

Thompson won, but the bills remain to be paid someday. Had Rock won, the bills would likely have remained unpaid anyway. Sen. Howard Carroll (D-l, Chicago), chairman of the Appropriations I Committee, said after the vote that even with the appropriation the state might not have had the cash to pay the bills. The approval of the appropriation would have both required interest payments on past due bills and speeded the payment when money became available, Carroll said.

The death of the override attempts doomed other new spending. Thompson's request for $13 million in new general funds spending authority was dropped by Democratic leaders when the overrides failed. "I think it's fair to say this assembly has decided not to overburden the governor-elect's new budget," Rock said.

One of the veto session's accomplishments was acceptance of a Thompson rewrite of a bill that will allow the Chicago Board of Education to pay negotiated salary increases to its teachers. The action forestalls a teacher strike. In June lawmakers passed S.B. 1591 which:

allowed the Chicago Board of Education, for three years, to use $51 million in property taxes levied for pensions to pay teacher salary increases;

allowed the Chicago Board of Education to use $15 million in property taxes levied by the School Finance Authority for salaries instead of buildings;

waived a requirement that Ted Kimbrough, the Chicago general superintendent of schools, take additional coursework;

gave the state the responsibility for funding the Chicago teachers' retirement system; and

allowed teachers statewide to retire at age 55 instead of age 60, without a reduction of benefits.

Thompson vetoed the provisions that would have had the state assume responsibility for funding Chicago pensions and would have allowed teacher retirement. He said both were to expensive. The governor kept the two funding switches and Kimbrough provisions. Thompson's veto left the bill's supporters to round up votes for the bill without the early retirement, a provision that had in June brought downstate Democrats aboard.

The veto also left a question over how many votes were needed to sustain the governor's veto. Thompson legislative office contended that a three-fifths vote was needed because the bill carried an immediate effective date but was being passed after June 30. However, Senate President Rock ruled the measure only required simple majority. The same ruling followed in the House. Steve Selcke, Thompson's legislative director, said that he expects the legislation to become law unless there is a court challenge.

Sen. Arthur L. Herman (D-2, Chicago), charged with rounding up the votes to accept Thompson's veto, contended the measure simply allowed Chicago to use its own resources for its schools. Republicans argued that the measure was fiscally irresponsible. "One day that house of cards will come tumbling down,'' said Sen. Jack Schaffer (R-32, Cary). To attract state votes, senators crafted and passed a companion bill that provided an additional $50 million in state aid to downstate schools for three years beginning in fiscal year 1992. Thompson's rewrite of S.B. 1591 passed the Senate on a party-line vote.

In the House the debate went much the same, although the bill drew more Republican votes. Rep. Ellis Levin (D-5, Chicago) sought passage: "We need this bill today to maintain stability and ensure that school reform will continue. Not all shared Levin's views. Rep. Anthony Young (D-l 7, Chicago) called the diversion an unacceptable precedent and called negotiating a contract without the money the "height of irresponsibility."

The $150 million downstate counterpart died in the House.

The fall's fiscal fights may foreshadow future fracases. When lawmakers went home on November 30, the state's general funds checkbook balance stood at $70 million. Unpaid bills and transfers total $171 million.

26/January 1991/Illinois Issues

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