By John O’Connor & Kiannah Sepeda-Miller
SPRINGFIELD — The top Democrat in the Illinois Senate abruptly canceled key votes Wednesday on a plan to end the state’s historic budget stalemate, accusing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of sabotaging a compromise that had been months in the making.
Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago ditched his earlier vow to call votes on key parts of the so-called “grand bargain,” including an income-tax increase and property tax-freeze.
Both Democrats and Republicans spent most of the day in private meetings, and when they regrouped on the floor late in the afternoon, Cullerton tersely claimed Rauner had hijacked the plan.
“The governor injected himself into the process and doesn’t want this approved in this form,” Cullerton said before the Senate adjourned for the day without taking action on the plan. “Situation is not getting any better. We need to work together to solve this. I had hoped it would be today.”
Cullerton, who had engineered the sprawling plan to break the logjam with Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, didn’t rule out salvaging parts of the deal, but added, “Unfortunately, we are in a holding pattern.”
Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said Rauner had called several GOP senators into private meetings to advise against supporting the crucial measures to bring the deal home. Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly did not answer questions about what Rauner did or said.
“Some progress has been made, but more work is needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers,” Kelly said. “We encourage senators to keep working.”
Speaking to reporters after the Senate clocked out, Cullerton said, “The next move is the governor’s.” Clearly frustrated, he questioned Rauner’s sincerity, saying, “He’s willing to compromise as long as he gets 100 percent of what he wants.”
Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly have bickered for two years over how to tackle a multibillion-dollar deficit. Rauner won’t agree to an income-tax hike until he gets pro-business regulatory changes, a permanent property tax freeze, and term limits on political leaders.
Cullerton and Radogno raised expectations for a breakthrough just after the new year with promises to quickly approve a package that raised revenue and met Rauner’s demands. But all they have to show for it are Tuesday votes approving less-contentious measures to streamline state-government purchasing, ease rules on how cities may spend tax revenue and simplify the way voters consolidate local governments. Even those were adopted mostly with Democratic votes.
Radogno didn’t dispute Cullerton’s assertion and sidestepped the issue of Rauner’s involvement.
“I have no question in my mind that we’re going to bring this thing in for a landing,” Radogno said. “There’s enough good will in this building. I know the governor will be joining us in trying to get that done.”
Her spokeswoman, Patty Schuh, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about what message GOP senators received from the governor.