State: Lot of words, little movement

Confrontation remains the norm in the House

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — With about a week to go before a planned public summit to address the budget impasse, the General Assembly moved the needle little this week.

Instead, intensely partisan debate remained the norm — at least in the House.

By a 58-0 vote, the state Senate gave its approval Tuesday to one version of agreed legislation (House Bill 1285) to make changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program that all sides say will forestall both a cost increase for employers and a benefit reduction for the unemployed. The House has yet to act on the matter.

The House also OK’d a nearly $2 billion allocation of non-general fund money to pay lottery winners and give local governments their allotments from motor fuel tax receipts, money to run 9-1-1 dispatch centers and the like.

But that bill (HB 4305), which passed with overwhelming support, remains held in the House on a point of procedure.

And on the lone legislative day scheduled for November, much of the House action involved partisan battle over a pair of Democrat-backed measures to overturn changes Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner made to child care and health care assistance programs.

Those efforts, which each fell a vote shy of passage, came despite Rauner’s rolling back many of the changes. And that, Republicans said, showed the Democrats were grandstanding and not showing good faith.

“Today in the House, it was about politics and it was about the negative (election) mail piece,” said Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.

“We could have avoided these votes today, this confrontational type of attitude and approach that we’ve seen week in and week out since the beginning of June,” he said.

Democrats had their own take, saying that while Rauner had made concessions, there was nothing to keep him or another governor from reversing them. Their efforts in Senate Bill 570 and House Bill 2482, they argued, were needed to protect the vulnerable from the whims of the executive branch.

“These bills were necessary to make sure this governor, any governor, cannot abuse their executive power again,” said Gail Hamilton, a home-care provider who spoke at a news conference called by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Democrats argued Rauner’s previous positions on child care, health care and even local revenue sharing had essentially blown up on him, even causing enough public backlash that GOP lawmakers were telling him he needed to back up or see his Republican support in the House diminish.

Rauner “cut his own back door deal on both child care and home care as a way to save face as moderate Republicans broke with his extreme and damaging positions,” said Hamilton, with the speaker agreeing.

“In my judgment, there was a wellspring of sentiment against the governor’s actions all over Illinois (and) communicated to every member of the Legislature, including Republicans,” Madigan said.

That’s not how the GOP sees it.

Housed Republicans stayed together on the votes. And, they argued, the governor entirely or nearly so rolled back some of his earlier decisions in an effort to get Republicans and Democrats off of standstill and moving toward shared decision-making.

“I know there’s a lot of tension in this building, but the fact is Democrats should take notice of what the governor’s done in the past week,” said Durkin. “He’s the one that went to the Democrats and said let’s find a resolution, one where we don’t have to have an adversarial vote on child care or the DON (Determination of Need) score.”

“The fact is the governor right now has said let’s fix these issues and that is what I think should be the message of today,” said Durkin.

Madigan said he’s not ignoring anything and certainly plans to attend the meeting of the governor and legislative leaders.

“Today is today and then tomorrow is tomorrow, and we’ve all learned you just take these things day by day,” the speaker said. “What’s important for me is not to lose sight of the ultimate goal.”

And Madigan made clear his goal remains a budget that addresses the deficit with a blend of spending cuts and new revenues. Further, he said, a budget deal must protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens, as well as middle-class families.

Republicans including Durkin and Senate Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, say they’ll work with Democrats on such a budget, but they also say the state needs the changes sought by Rauner.

“I think the governor has made it clear he’s trying to do the least damage possible while still trying to strike a deal that has real structural reforms in it,” said Radogno. “What I’m sensing now is there is real bipartisan support for that approach.”

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