Few signs of movement in Springfield

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — If any, signs of progress in the standoff between legislative Democrats and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner were few on Tuesday.

With two weeks to go before the fiscal year runs out and no budget in place for the one that starts July 1, the House and Senate spent much of the day on non-budget hearings.

And despite a new Rauner television ad that ripped him, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, stuck to his talking points.

The speaker did, however, say talks between both parties’ legislative leaders were making progress “slowly, slowly.”

Senate President John Cullerton sounded a bit more upbeat in a Monday night TV appearance on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.”

“Ironically enough, I think we’re going to reach an agreement on the budget, and hopefully we’ll do it it before the 1st of July,” said Cullerton, D-Chicago.

Cullerton, though, didn’t back that up with any hints of concession from either side.

And the governor’s office seemed unimpressed.

“Speaker Madigan has given us no indication he is willing to compromise or restructure anything in state government,” Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Schrimpf said. “For now, it looks like he is intent on continuing to protect the status quo.”

Much of the buzz in Springfield on Tuesday revolved around a new  Rauner television ad in which the Winnetka Republican criticizes Democrats, but only Madigan by name.

“Mike Madigan and the politicians he controls refuse to change,” says the ad’s narrator. “They’re saying no to spending discipline, no to job-creating economic reforms, no to term limits. All they want is higher taxes — again.”

Madigan, D-Chicago, didn’t seem ruffled.

In an afternoon news conference, the speaker renewed his vow to work with the governor and again struck his themes of the past two weeks.

Madigan maintains the governor’s Turnaround Agenda and now his ad are “working in the extreme,” and only everyone working together in moderation will resolve what he calls the state’s No. 1 issue — the budget deficit.
The governor and Republicans don’t agree on that being The Big No. 1.

The heavily Democratic legislature has sent Rauner a spending plan of more than $36 billion, about $3 billion above Democrats own revenue estimates and $4 billion light according to Republicans’ math.

Democrats say they’ll work with the governor and the GOP on raising new revenues.

Rauner has said, no, he won’t sign a “phony” budget that is unconstitutionally out of balance.

And he and Republican legislative leaders also say they won’t agree to any new revenues without structural reform, such as a property tax freeze and changes to Illinois’ workers compensation system, as well as term limits for elected officials.

The Rauner-led GOP contends Democrats who have for decades controlled the General Assembly have dropped Illinois into a moribund economy that is driving business, jobs and population from the state.

Republicans argue the only way Illinois can get out of its economic tailspin is to clean up and downsize government and to get aggressive in the competition for jobs.

“The governor’s advocacy of non-budget issues works against the core beliefs of both Democrats and Republicans in terms of bringing down wages and the standard of living for middle class families,” Madigan said again Tuesday.

Cullerton, who wasn’t named in the governor’s ad but has taken his own lumps in Rauner’s remarks to media, also continued to pitch the “let’s talk” angle.

“It’s not the best way to start a conversation when you’re trying to reach an agreement,” Cullerton said about Rauner’s ad. “I think he (Rauner) is still in campaign mode, and we’d like him to get out of the campaign mode and start governing.”

“Let’s work together,” the Senate president said. “That’s what we’re willing to do.”

The House spent much of Tuesday on a hearing on a proposal to partially privatize the functions of the  state’s commerce department.

The Senate, meanwhile, devoted a chunk of its time to listening to testimony on college affordability.

To date, the governor has trimmed a stated $820 million from planned fiscal year 2016 spending in the event there is no deal to balance the budget by July 1. And although he has not gone into specifics, Rauner has said his office has been contingency planning should a partial government shutdown become necessary.

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