Meeting taking shape between governor, leaders

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD ­ — As Illinois heads for its fifth month without a budget, the governor and at least three of the four legislative leaders appear set for a public meeting, perhaps Nov. 18.

So far, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, hasn’t committed, but spokesman Steve Brown said that doesn’t mean the speaker is opposed.

“We’ll look at the agenda (from the governor’s office) and see where we go from there,” Brown said.

Brown pointed out it was Madigan who made the suggestion that a meeting between the governor and four legislative leaders be public.

The impetus for a meeting between the four leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner gained momentum when a half-dozen good-government groups suggested the five leading officials get together in one place — something which hasn’t happened since May. The groups offered to facilitate the meeting.

The governor’s office took up the idea, which was presented in a letter by former state Sen. Susan Garrett, now chairwoman of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. But Rauner also said his office would take lead and host the meeting.

“As you know, Leaders Meetings are held and conducted by the governor’s office. As such, while we appreciate the advocacy groups’ desire to be involved, we will pick up the organization of the meeting from here,” the governor wrote to the four leaders — Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton for the Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin for the Republicans.

Brown on Monday said there has been some progress in Springfield during the impasse, such as the Democrats and Republicans coming to agreement to let federal money flow through to fund specific programs.

He said there are still “several categories of state spending, earmarked numbers or areas that could be addressed in that realm … (and) maybe we could get some agreement there. It’s really hard to tell.”

Still, Brown didn’t indicate much enthusiasm for items from the governor’s “Turnaround Agenda” that Rauner says he needs before he’ll discuss any additional revenues for the state’s budget.

“As long as the push is there to do these non-budget things, many of which don’t even kick in until the next decade, it’s’ hard to say (we) can have resolution, but we’re anxious to have one,” Brown said. “The state should have a budget.”

Rauner, R-Winnetka, doesn’t seem to be backing away from his agenda items, which he says are fundamental reforms.

“In order to solve this budget impasse, we must come together to agree on a package of structural reforms that can save taxpayers billions alongside a balanced budget,” Rauner said in his letter to the legislative leaders.

Political analyst and publisher Jim Nowlan said public meetings have their pluses and minuses, but in this case, “it would probably be better if it were in private, as much as we all believe in and value transparency.”

Still, he said, he believes the push from the good-government groups and the quick acceptance of the idea by the governor and three leaders so far are signs the factions are hearing a “growing drumbeat” of dissatisfaction with the lack of movement in Springfield.

If a meeting, public or private, is to help, Nowlan said, the sides must actually be willing to talk about at least some of the issues the opposite side cares about.

If the governor says “Turnaround Agenda Only!” or if Democrats say, “Budget Only!” then the game hasn’t changed, said Nowlan, a former Republican member of the House and retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Analyst Kent Redfield said the value of a public meeting might be that it starts cooperation at some small level and gives impetus to other, private meetings.

The heavy political lifting — such as a discussion how many votes one side or the other would be willing to put up on a given measure — “you don’t do those things in public,” said Redfield, a U of I Springfield professor emeritus of political science.

Like Nowlan, Redfield said a one-sided agenda won’t get the job done and that each side will have to show at least a bit of movement if the talks are to lead anywhere.

The temptation for each side to try to seize the public-relations high ground at the expense of the other will have to reckoned with, he added.

“We know politicians have a very difficult time not grandstanding when they get in front of an open microphone or a TV camera,” Redfield said.

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