By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Thursday put Gov. Bruce Rauner on the clock.
Come May 14, the speaker said, he’s calling for a House vote on a right-to-work proposal and the governor might want to send the General Assembly a bill on the matter before then.
The powerful Chicago Democrat noted Rauner (R-Winnetka) first spoke about right-to-work measures 100 days ago, yet with only 24 days left in the scheduled legislative session has yet to submit a bill.
The Rauner team was not thrilled with the speaker’s announcement.
“The administration continues to negotiate in good faith over the governor’s turnaround agenda and will remain at the table as long as it takes,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said.
“If House Democrats want to walk away from the negotiating table and vote on a proposal before there is bipartisan agreement that the material is ready to be introduced in committee, then they should start with a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on legislators.”
But therein may lie the proverbial rub, or at least the friction among priorities.
During the same spring session, the state is attempting to deal with a $6 billion projected shortfall for the coming fiscal year and Rauner has been stumping for huge changes in state law and practices.
His “Turnaround Illinois” agenda includes localized right-to-work zones, term limits, workers compensation reform, unemployment insurance reform, lawsuit reform, a property tax freeze, and the rollback of prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements.
Additionally, Rauner’s budget proposal calls for no new revenue and massive cuts to close the $6 billion gap, including cuts to human service programs that affect many traditionally Democratic constituencies.
Analysts said Madigan may be signaling Rauner needs to stop asking for everything he’d like, count his votes in the Legislature and focus on a workable budget and other potentially achievable goals.
Thursday’s news appeared the second message of the week from House Democrats to the Rauner administration.
On Wednesday, the speaker essentially brought the governor’s own suggested budget for human services in FY ‘16 to the House floor. With House Republicans unprepared for the move, the proposal received exactly zero votes.
“The message may well be that if they want to accomplish anything this session, then Rauner had better get off a couple of things that have almost no chance of passing,” said Mike Lawrence, a longtime statehouse journalist, former aide to Gov. Jim Edgar and retired director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
While cautioning he had no inside scoop, Lawrence said, “I think it will be clear after this vote that right-to-work has virtually no chance of passing. I have a difficult time seeing where anything on the union front is going to happen.”
One by one, Madigan is addressing issues that Rauner has raised, Lawrence said. And by showing the governor where he seriously lacks votes, Madigan might be saying it’s time to shift focus.
Political scientist Chris Mooney said the message from Madigan to Rauner may be one of “who’s for what and who’s not.”
Although enormously accomplished in business, Rauner might also be getting a lesson from the speaker on the legislative process, said Mooney, director of the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Political Affairs.
“Illinois state government is not a hierarchical, top-down structure,” Mooney said. “You have to do certain things. There are timelines, deadlines, schedules, processes — hoops to jump through.”
To date, Springfield “has blown way past its normal rules-based deadlines” for the ground gained to date, Mooney said.
For his part, Madigan says he’s simply airing it out. Wednesday’s debates and votes on human services spending were out in the open, he said.
And, he said, next weeks right to work public debate and vote are necessary:
“By putting the governor’s proposal to a vote, legislators will have the opportunity to ensure the voices of the middle-class families in their districts are heard,” Madigan said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Westmont) doesn’t appear convinced Madigan’s actions have been entirely altruistic.
On Wednesday, he called the sudden human services votes ill-timed, inappropriate and a break from bipartisanship that has shown results this spring in resolution of the fiscal year 2015 budget crisis.
Regarding the May 14 vote, Durkin said, “I believe the working groups, particularly the one dealing with this issue, need to continue their work negotiating consensus. That is a better approach to take.”