The Illinois House passed a spending plan along with a tax hike and revenue plan as politicians try to end the two year budget stalemate. Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) is one of the Republicans who broke ranks with their party and joined Democrats in supporting the measures.
“To say that they were the two hardest votes that I have taken since I’ve been in the General Assembly is a fair statement,” said Hammond, who became state representative in December 2010.
“They were extremely difficult votes to take but I can honestly say that I believe they were the right votes to take.”
She said the state is currently spending about $39 billion a year while taking in about $30.5 billion. She said the House-approved plan reduces spending to about $36.5 billion and raises the state income tax rate from 3.75% to nearly 5% to help generate the revenue for balancing the budget.
She said every state agency is having its spending cut but added the state budget cannot be balanced through cuts alone.
“A very, very small portion of our budget is actually negotiable. To say you just need to do all cuts – I don’t know how you cut $9 billion out of a budget the size of the state of Illinois and also be able to pay your backlog of bills, which is currently at $14 billion.”
She also said the state is spending $20 million per day in interest payments.
“That’s nothing short of insanity.”
Hammond also said Illinois is in danger of having its bonds downgraded to junk status if it does not get a balanced budget in place. She said it would take decades for the state to dig itself out of that hole.
Members of both parties have been working out the budget details for months.
“So for people to say it was the Democrats’ budget or Madigan’s budget and Madigan spending, it’s really not fair because there have been negotiations going on, certainly in the House, between Republicans and Democrats to compromise,” Hammond said.
“Certainly Republicans didn’t get everything they wanted in that budget and Democrats didn’t either.”
She wishes they could have worked out a smaller cut for higher education. Under the plan, the schools will see their state appropriations reduced by 10% compared to what they received in Fiscal Year 2015, which is the last year the state had a budget. For the past two years public universities have been forced to get by with a mere fraction of the state financial support they would normally expect.
“Our colleges and universities have been hanging on by very thin threads for too many years,” she said.
Governor Bruce Rauner has already said he will veto the budget plan in its current form. Hammond said she would vote to override that veto.
Hammond said the pro-business reforms Rauner wants are still on the table and being negotiated.