Senate Dems to push forward on ‘grand bargain’

By John O’Connor 
AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD — Fed-up Illinois Senate Democrats plan to put the “grand bargain” budget compromise to the test, calling each of the dozen or so measures for votes to let them rise or fall on their own, a top senator said Tuesday.

Assistant Majority Leader Donne Trotter’s comments came as Republicans and Democrats spent Tuesday blaming each other for unwillingness to negotiate as the General Assembly’s scheduled May 31 adjournment looms and time runs short for avoiding the start of a third straight fiscal year without a budget. Trotter said the time has come to vote it up or down.

“People who want to move the state forward are going to move the state forward,” Trotter said of the votes planned for Wednesday.

The state has not had an annual budget agreement since summer 2015. The treasury will end the year more than $5 billion in the red and past-due bills have grown to $13 billion.

Each piece of the grand bargain, with both an income tax increase to tackle the shortfalls and legislation demanded by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to freeze property taxes and cut costs in workers’ compensation, was linked. That meant none of the pieces would take effect unless all did. But Democrats now have changed their strategy.

Lawmakers even recalled six pieces of legislation Tuesday that already won Senate approval in order to reposition them for stand-alone votes.

“They have not passed as a package so we’re going to move forward and let them pass on their own merits,” Trotter said.

A spokeswoman for Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno, Patty Schuh, said the GOP remains hopeful that negotiations will continue. She said meetings are scheduled Wednesday.

“The alternative is dire,” Schuh said.

A spokeswoman for Rauner declined comment.

Earlier Tuesday, top House Democrats publicly asked Rauner why he hasn’t responded to their offer to negotiate his terms for a budget breakthrough.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie said at a Statehouse news conference that the group is willing to compromise with the governor on his property tax freeze and workers’ compensation proposals. But the Democrats have additional “non-budget” items they also want on the table.

The items include a health care measure that protects insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, loophole closures to ensure all corporations pay at least a minimum income tax, and other economic plans to, as Currie put it, “lift up the middle class.”

Rauner was dismissive when asked later why he hadn’t answered the Democrats’ overture. He said they’re trying to scuttle the grand bargain and, “this is probably a last-minute attempt to create a distraction and derail the senators who seem to be making progress and coming close to an agreement.”

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