By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The Republican leaders of the Illinois House and Senate on Tuesday accused Democrats of negotiating without faith, slow-rolling the bargaining process and breaking promises of bipartisanship.
Democrats responded by saying they’re still fully engaged and suggested Republicans might want to look at their own attitudes and long list of demands.
With fewer than a dozen days left in the scheduled session, GOP Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said House Democrats were making a mockery of a fair process and trying to embarrass Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Winnetka).
Said Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), “With each passing day it looks more and more like the Democrats are unwilling to really engage and negotiate transformational reforms to state government.”
Democrats, she said, don’t “appear to have any real interest in solving or frankly even acknowledging the serious problems that face this state.”
Durkin said his colleagues from across the aisle “are not interested in reforms; they just want a tax hike. That’s more and more what I hear on daily basis.”
The GOP leaders are supporting big items from their governor and party leader’s agenda. Those include term limits, a property tax freeze, right-to-work zones, rollbacks on prevailing wage acts and project labor agreements, pension reform, changes in worker’s compensation and tort law, and changes in state ethics legislation.
At Rauner’s suggestion, key legislators and staff from each caucus, as well as personnel from the governor’s office, have been meeting in closed-door working groups to come up with the basis for legislation on those items and the budget.
Democrats on Tuesday returned the Republican fire.
“Are these guys operating in another state?” asked Steve Brown, spokesman for Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). “We’re working with the governor and the Senate to get a budget that can be on the governor’s desk by the end of May, for scheduled adjournment.”
Brown rejected Durkin’s denouncement of House Democrats running votes on key Rauner agenda items without having the governor’s legislation.
Citing a right-to-work measure, which Democrats proposed and then crushed, Brown said:
“An important public official (Rauner) has made this a high priority. So what is the trouble about having a public discussion and public vote on one of their signature ideas?”
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said Senate Democrats are still at the table.
She said Culleton is “disappointed in the tone and the approach of the Republican leadership today. He thinks it is counterproductive to the process and it truly raises questions about the true goal of the governor’s secret working group meetings.
And if the whole process comes to a halt and the state finds itself without a budget by session deadline, May 31, or the start of the new budget year, July 1?
It appears that blame might lie in the eyes of the partisan.
“Whether we go into overtime is 100 percent on the Democrats,” Radogno said. “Either they can get to the table and get serious about reforming or they can choose to drive the state into overtime.”
Said Phelon: “That’s up to the governor. He’s set a forum, a table where wants everyone to negotiate and he’s made it very clear that unless he gets what he wants in the way he wants, then the people of Illinois just won’t actually have the constitutional requirement fulfilled that they have a balanced budget.”
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Illinois is facing a roughly $6.2 billion operating deficit in fiscal 2016, is $110 billion behind on its pension payments and has a stack of past-due bills about $3.3 billion high.
Solving those problems or even making shorter work of them in any given legislative session would be an achievement, said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus at U of I Springfield.
As accomplished as he was in the capital markets, Redfield said, Rauner is new to statewide politics and to those who’ve been in it a long time.
“Both sides are betting on the other to blink,” Redfield said.
“I don’t think the governor wants to crash the state and I don’t think the legislative leaders want to crash the state,” the professor said.
“But the potential for meltdown is as high as I’ve ever seen it because the stakes are so high, the problems are so great and because the people involved don’t all know each other and don’t trust each other. It’s the uncertainty that’s frightening.”