By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Notable by his absence from a Thursday meeting of the governor and the legislative leaders was Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
That didn’t thrill Rep. Jim Durkin, leader of the House Republicans.
“I thought it was a good conversation, but the fact is we’re not going to move this along unless we all are fully participating and actively involved in these negotiations,” said Durkin of Western Springs.
“There were four of us (and) we had a good discussion, but we’re not going to get any further down the road unless we have everyone in this room,” Durkin said.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker had a scheduling conflict. And when it comes to the discussion topics for the day — the governor’s agenda items — the speaker has made his thoughts clear for the past 11 months.
“It was a good meeting,” said Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. “But we missed the speaker. He was not there today.”
Neither Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, nor Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, spoke to gathered media after the roughly 90-minute meeting in Chicago.
Radogno and Durkin said the day’s topics included the governor’s requests for legislative action on term limits and redistricting, changes to the workers compensation system, funding the state’s pension systems and, to some degree, the school aid formula.
Cullerton’s spokeswoman late Thursday afternoon released a statement saying, “The senate president was encouraged by the addition of school funding reform to the meeting agenda.”
With Illinois nearly six months into fiscal year 2016 and still without a budget, Thursday would have marked the third meeting in as many weeks of the Republican governor, his allied legislative leaders and the two Democratic leaders who control supermajorities in the General Assembly.
The issue of new state revenues was not discussed Thursday, the Republican leaders said.
The Republican leaders insisted that without some progress on the structural changes sought by Rauner, there will be no consideration of increasing state revenue, otherwise known as taxes.
“That’s the pathway to getting to a budget, working with the governor, myself and Senator Radogno toward reforms … we did (discuss those) this afternoon,” Durkin said.
The GOP leaders said Thursday’s gathering, though one leader short, wasn’t wasted time.
“We were missing the speaker, but the fact is that as long we continue to meet it seems we talk a little bit more (and) we get a little bit more into details, and I think that’s healthy,” Durkin said.
Visible progress on the budget has been scant since May, when the Democrats passed a roughly $36 billion spending plan and acknowledged it was as much as $4 billion in the red. The said they’d work with Rauner on spending cuts and revenue increases to balance the new budget.
The governor and the Republican legislators have held together, saying if there’s no give on Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” which the GOP considers essential reform to the state’s economic and political environments, then Republicans won’t support new or additional taxes.
Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said he doesn’t believe Madigan’s absence on Thursday was intended as disrespect for the governor or the other leaders.
“I’ve been told by others that this time of year is typically when the speaker goes out of town, and it’s familial and not unusual for him to be away at this time,” said Sandack, who leads the Republicans in debate on the House floor. “Obviously, I wish he was there, and I’d prefer a full meeting of the leaders.”
Sandack said the GOP’s stance on revenues isn’t intended as a ploy or punishment, but an effort to get Illinois to embrace spending discipline and break cycles of overspending that has to be covered by higher taxes and over-borrowing.
“We can talk about revenue,” he said. “It’s very relevant, but we’re not going to do so in a vacuum. That’s been done in the past and it’s utterly failed.”