Senate tries to revisit ‘grand bargain’ but GOP won’t agree

By John O’Connor 
AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD — Republicans pulled the plug Wednesday on Illinois Senate Democrats’ attempts to recharge the “grand bargain” budget-compromise with three weeks left in the General Assembly’s spring session.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, was frustrated after Minority Leader Christine Radogno scuttled his plan to call key pieces of what was supposed to be a logjam-busting package as Illinois nears the deadline for enacting its first full-year budget since 2015. He blamed GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and accused the first-time officeholder of ignorance on compromise.

“These guys don’t know how to govern,” Cullerton told reporters after the shortened Senate session. “They haven’t had a lot of practice. At some point, you have to agree and you have to make a deal.”

Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said the problem with Springfield politicians is that they have been cutting bad deals for taxpayers for decades.

“It’s why people and jobs are fleeing,” she said. “It’s time to get it right.”

Cullerton and Radogno developed the grand bargain last winter as a stake-your-claim attempt to push forward stalled talks which, until then, had largely been seen as a test of wills between Rauner, the conservative businessman, and longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat.

A spokeswoman for Rauner declined comment. But the governor met with Senate leaders Wednesday evening. And Sen. Bill Brady, the deputy Republican leader from Bloomington, said Rauner has routinely engaged in negotiations and said, “We’ve been making concession.”

The package includes a hefty increase in the income tax rate to tackle a multibillion-dollar deficit and a casino plan that would see Rockford green lighted for a project, but also regulatory and tax-climate changes Rauner demands. They include restrictions on workers’ compensation injury payouts and a permanent freeze on property taxes, on which local governments, particularly school boards, rely heavily for revenue.

Those two issues remain the sticking points. Cullerton and Radogno promised a quick grand-bargain vote of affirmation, but failed twice in January and again in March.

Democrats say workers comp changes would impoverish injured workers and that Rauner isn’t considering money-saving reforms they made in 2011. A permanent freeze on property taxes would cripple schools, they say. They’ve offered further reforms on the worker payout and a two-year freeze on real estate taxes.

That’s not good enough, said Radogno, a Lemont Republican, after she declined to allow Cullerton to call for floor votes on her legislation covering the issues.

“We need to keep tax increases as low as possible,” Radogno said. “A property tax freeze will be painful for the locals (municipal governments) buy if we don’t do this, people will continue to leave the state.”

The Senate did OK one grand bargain measure, which gives municipal governments more flexibility in paying off long-term loans for construction.

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