Deadline’s gone but showdown is on

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — The scheduled spring legislative session ended Sunday with no budget and no action on the governor’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda.

And it may not be a surprise, as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan apparently have very different ideas on what’s best for the state.

Rauner on Sunday evening reiterated he wants reform, namely significant work on five of his agenda items: term limits on elected officials, independent legislative redistricting, property tax relief, workers compensation, and lawsuit reform.

Madigan has a different take, namely that the state budget deficit is legislative Job 1.

“Please, again, the No. 1 problem afflicting the the state of Illinois is the budget deficit,” Madigan said Sunday morning on WGN Radio’s The Sunday Spin.

And that baseline difference seems to set the theme for remainder of the arguments and the volley of blame for the stalled session.

That includes both sides saying they are the one best looking out for the middle class.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on Monday afternoon: “Much of his (Rauner’s) agenda has a theme. It’s middle class workers lose and corporate CEO’s win.”

Rauner, speaking to reporters Sunday evening: “They are not about the middle class; they are about the political class. … Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton make their money from big government, and big government is crushing the state.”

And the argument tends to stay circular, with Democrats saying Rauner had no right to “hold hostage” the state budget over non-budget issues, while Rauner and the GOP say the biggest financial issue is fundamental reform, without which Illinois will continue to decline.

Said Madigan, “I would repeat, to the extent that these non-budget issues take the elimination of the deficit to the extreme, it doesn’t help the solution. “The solution to elimination of the budget deficit will be in moderation.”

The GOP says the House and Senate Democrats just want a tax increase, and the fact they sent Rauner a roughly $36 billion spending plan that is $3 billion to $4 billion bigger than estimated revenue proves it.

Said Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno, “Again, a lot of noise and distraction from what’s really going on here: All the Democrats want is another tax increase.”

Democrats say that’s hypocritical because Rauner’s own proposed budget had savings built in that they say the state couldn’t possibly expect to realize in fiscal year 2016, including $2.2 billion in projected budget payment savings.

Madigan argues the state needs to both make spending cuts and raise revenue:

“I’ve said from the beginning you cannot simply cut your way out of a budget deficit, you need a balanced approach,” he said on WGN. “You need cuts, and you need new revenue.”

Rauner, Radogno and House GOP Leader Jim Durkin all say the same: No new taxes without reform first.

And while the governor and the four legislative leaders all say they are still willing to negotiate just about anytime, anywhere, they’re are nearly equally hard on each other on how bipartisanship broke down.

Republicans say the Democrats participation in bipartisan closed-door working groups with the governor’s staff quickly waned and eventually vanished. Durkin on Sunday said he’d begun to wonder why the Democrats agreed to participate in the first place.

But Democrats say the Rauner team was really never at the table, only putting down a long list of demands and somewhat shortening it according to their own plans, but never truly offering anything.

“You keep using that word, ‘Negotiate,’ ”  Sen. Don Harmon D-Oak Park, said to a top Rauner aide during a committee hearing. “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

From here, it only gets tougher. With the May 31 deadline blown, it will take three-fifths majority in each chamber to pass any legislation, including budget bills.

There’s also a huge buzz over whether Rauner, said to have $50 million in political funding under his direction, now will launch a massive advertising attack on Democrats, particularly Madigan, who the governor’s press office has punched at often in the past week.

Rauner on Sunday said he wasn’t going to discuss “messaging,” but he added he’s braced for anything aimed at him.

“You watch the attacks coming against me the next couple of weeks,” the governor  said, “This ain’t tiddlywinks.”

And while the May deadline may be gone, the session is not actually over. The legislative leaders are bringing their members back in a “continuous session.”

The House next meets Thursday and the Senate next meets June 9.

Because this is neither a pre-deadline regular session nor a special session called by the speaker and president or the governor, the lawmakers won’t be getting their daily expense payments or mileage reimbursements — a savings of $20,000 on per diem payments alone.

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