Illinois finally has a budget. For six months at least, time enough to get through the November election.

After going a year without a budget the state legislature finally reached an agreement with Gov. Bruce Rauner and approved a host of measures amounting to a budget on June 30, the last day of the fiscal year.

The budget fully funds state aid to school districts for the 2016-17 school year and funds road projects for the entire year. The parts of the state budget that have dedicated revenue sources are funded for a full year, while the parts of budget that are funded by general state revenue are only funded for six months.

Fully funding state aid to education for the first time in seven years was a major achievement, said state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park).

General state aid to local school districts will be increased by $331 million and an additional $250 million will go to school districts, including the Chicago Public Schools, which has large numbers of low income students.

“It fully funds K through 12 and does so in a significantly better way that we’ve done before,” Harmon said. “All of the school districts I represent will get a little more money than they got last year and then more importantly they’ll have the certainty of funding for the full school year.”

State aid to Oak Park and River Forest High School will increase by 8 percent next year to a little more than $1.3 million next year, according to figures provided by a Senate Democratic Caucus staffer.

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will see a 4-percent, or $363,221.51, increase in state aid, while River Forest District 90 will get an 8-percent increase, amounting to $35,890.57.

The compromise agreement came after a yearlong standoff between Rauner and the Democrats who control the state legislature. Rauner wanted major changes, what he calls his “turnaround agenda,” in collective bargaining rights, workman’s compensation rules, and a property tax freeze before he would support a tax increase.

In the compromise, none of the issues Rauner focused on was addressed. No tax increase was passed, but the legislature did pass legislation allowing the Chicago Board of Education to increase property taxes in Chicago to pay for pensions of Chicago Public School teachers.

“Once the governor dropped the precondition that we approve his turnaround agenda before tackling the budget, we were able to reach a compromise fairly quickly,” said Harmon. “And it’s an imperfect compromise, but most compromises are. I hope that it provides a degree of certainty and stability to all the folks that rely upon different state services but we’ve got plenty of work ahead of us.”

The really tough issues, such as raising taxes, cutting spending and pension reform still need to be addressed after the election.

“We’re going to go back after the election and take another round of difficult votes on some combination of spending cuts, revenue increases, or both,” Harmon said. “I don’t think we should break our arms patting ourselves on the back. All that we did was to do our jobs. We did them in a difficult environment and in the end it was the legislative diligence pushing to get a budget done that I think forced the compromise.”

Harmon said that pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers helped push Rauner and legislative leaders to make a deal. He said that once Rauner dropped his insistence on the legislative approving his agenda a deal was reached fairly quickly.

“Whatever led the governor to realize that he couldn’t pass that agenda let us turn our collective attention to passing the budget,” Harmon said.

Harmon said Democrats were successful in fighting off Rauner’s agenda and that while the budget doesn’t spend as much as he would like on education and social services he can live with it for now.

“We have a budget that is generally consistent with Democratic principles and something that we fought for for the last 18 months, and we did it without passing any of the turnaround agenda items that are counter to our principles,” Harmon said. “Certainly we are spending less than what we proposed on education and we didn’t fully fund higher education and social services.”

Fully funding state aid to education for the first time in seven years was a major achievement, Harmon said. 

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