By John O’Connor
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Senate Republicans pleaded Wednesday for more negotiation time as Democrats prepared to cut apart a budget compromise plan and remove language requiring all the parts to pass for any to take effect.
Assistant Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady said the Democratic strategy could derail efforts to find a bipartisan solution in the final two weeks of the Legislature’s spring session.
The disagreement has left Illinois without an annual budget since summer 2015, longer than any state has gone in memory. The state will end the fiscal year June 30 nearly $6 billion in debt, and on Wednesday, overdue bills hit $14.3 billion for the first time.
Senate Democratic President John Cullerton of Chicago and Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont hatched a so-called “grand bargain” compromise five months ago. Its dozen or so bills combine an income tax hike sought by Democrats with business-friendly proposals Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has demanded, including cuts to the workers’ compensation system and a freeze on local property taxes.
Key to the package was language stipulating that none of the proposals would take effect unless all did. Cullerton decided Tuesday to remove that language, even bringing back six pieces of legislation that had already won approval so that they could be put up for re-vote as stand-alone measures.
Brady and other Senate Republicans described the ongoing talks as “fluid” and didn’t have an estimate on when a new bipartisan plan would emerge.
“It can’t happen soon enough for us, but it’s got to be the right deal for taxpayers,” said Brady, a Bloomington Republican. “It’s got to be a balanced budget. We’re not there yet. We can get there, we believe, as we continue to negotiate options. That’s the fluid part.”
Democrats frustrated with the delay argued negotiations had gone long enough.
“We’ve met 14 times in the past two weeks,” Democratic Assistant Majority Leader Donne Trotter of Chicago said Tuesday night. “How many more time do we have to meet before we take any action?”
Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a St. Charles Republican, urged patience.
“Every time we have a conversation about this, we get a little bit closer,” she said. “In a state that has the type of diversity that this state has and the challenges that this state has had and continues to have, it is no easy task to get to a point where both sides can live with solutions in a number of different areas.”