By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — State Senate President John Cullerton on Wednesday gave a few clues as to the possible shape of things to come as the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner get ready to grind out a budget.
The Chicago Democrat followed Rauner in a separate appearance before 200 people at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce annual luncheon.
Rauner’s has the edge on Illinois Democratic leaders in terms of public appearances this year. Since he was sworn in Jan. 12, the Winnetka Republican has been championing his “Illinois Turnaround” agenda before audiences of two dozen to 200 throughout the state.
In fact, his address to Chamber members on Wednesday was his second of the day on the subject.
And Rauner is not backing up when it comes to his aggressive agenda.
“We’ve got to go in a different direction,” Rauner said. “This is a key moment in Illinois history, literally a critical moment in Illinois history. We are going to fundamentally change the direction of our state.”
Economic growth is the No. 1 priority and the only thing that can lift Illinois, the governor said.
“Right now is the biggest opportunity to make change,” he said.
One big change that Cullerton, the leader of 39 state Senate Democrats, doesn’t see happening: right-to-work zones, one of Rauner’s big items in his “Illinois Turnaround” agenda.
“I don’t think he (Rauner) really appreciates there are lot of Republicans in central and southern Illinois who are in unions (and) who are not anti-union,” Cullerton said. “There are school teachers; there are prison guards. I don’t think there’s an anti-union movement from the whole state of Illinois.”
That came from an almost-reluctant Cullerton when asked if there was anything in the governor’s agenda on which he simply could not compromise.
Cullerton said he wasn’t fan of saying never, he just doesn’t see a groundswell of support for right to work in Illinois.
Cullerton also departed from Rauner on term limits, saying he understood they “are popular because we’re unpopular.”
Earlier in the day, Rauner said he was strongly in favor of term limits and wants a legislature-initiated ballot question on that topic.
“Work for the people for a few years, do some common-sense things and move on,” Rauner said.
The governor added he might be talked into a second run, but he was neither worried about that nor would he soften his positions to make a second term more likely.
“This isn’t a ‘nibble around the edges’ sort of agenda,” he said.
Cullerton on Wednesday afternoon said Senate Democrats are ready to negotiate the fiscal year 2016 budget, but there is a $6 billion budget shortfall to close, and his members need to see some specific legislation.
Cullerton said there would be a budget and it will bipartisan, as Democrats do not intend to pass one without Republican votes.
To that end, Cullerton said he’d like to see the General Assembly get its work done by midnight May 31.
Pushing past May 31 only means super-majority votes are needed, and that won’t make an agreement easier to reach for either the legislative leaders or the governor, he said.
Cullerton indicated he’s willing to negotiate on many of Rauner’s “turnaround” items, including workers compensation reform, changes to Illinois’ unemployment insurance program, lawsuit reform and other matters.
Cullerton said he’s also eager to discuss a capital bill, but noted that will take additional revenue.
Todd Maisch, the state Chamber’s president and CEO, said he was pleased with the Wednesday event as the chambers members got a chance to hear about and ask about their biggest concerns.
One of the biggest, he said, is workers compensation reform, as Illinois has some of the highest workers comp costs in the nation.
“Workers comp has really vaulted to the top, and it has been there for quite a while. I can tell you when these people in the room hear the governor speak; they’re hearing what they’ve been saying privately to their employees and their colleagues for years. I think it’s been incredibly well received and our members are energized.”