Trust lacking in failure to OK budget by deadline

By John O’Connor 
AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD — The lack of trust between Illinois’ Republican governor and its Legislature led by Democrats reached a full-throated roar Wednesday as the House speaker acknowledged a midnight deadline to end the longest state budget drought in modern American history would be missed, triggering a rule requiring even more votes for later approval and a gubernatorial scolding for “dereliction.”

Speaker Michael Madigan announced there would be no House floor vote on budget measures previously approved by the full Senate. Rep. Greg Harris, the Democrats’ budget negotiator, said lawmakers would take testimony at public hearings about how to reach a fiscal pact for the first time since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2015.

The Senate adjourned less than an hour before the deadline, failing to pass a budget during the legislative session for the third consecutive year. It’s the longest a state has gone without a budget deal since at least the Great Depression.

“This is a dereliction of duty on the part of the majority in the General Assembly,” Rauner told reporters Wednesday. “We need to fight for our taxpayers, make sure they’re protected; bring down our property tax burden, it’s the highest in America; and most importantly, grow more jobs in the state of Illinois.”

He denounced the Democrats’ plan for “sham hearings” to drum up “phony headlines.” The fiscal year starts July 1, but beginning Thursday, a three-fifths supermajority rather than simple majority is required for budget approval.

The budget plan at hand, borne of months of bipartisan Senate negotiations, called for spending $37.3 billion fueled by $5.4 billion in tax increases. But Madigan said his members got skittish after watching a fickle Rauner during the Senate talks, allegedly often changing his mind on individual parts and pulling GOP members off votes while maintaining he was hands-off.

“Some of our people are concerned, having observed how the governor worked with the Senate Democrats, where he would negotiate, then back away, negotiate, back away,” Madigan said. “They just don’t have a high level of confidence in the way the governor has conducted himself.”

Another, more-distant but politically crucial, deadline looms: the November 2018 election. Rauner has refused to say whether he’ll seek a second term, although his campaign paid for a two-day swing around the state in April to shore up support for his agenda. Rauner was asked how that differed from the planned Democrats’ traveling he dismisses as a “sham.”

“When I go to communicate to the people of Illinois the status of how broken our system is and what we need to do to get a balanced budget, that’s an essential part of what I do,” Rauner said. “Hearings about a budget, taking public testimony about a budget, now? … That’s not real change. We should be negotiating real terms.”

Rauner has blamed Democrats for failing to address the pro-business “structural changes” he seeks, such as cost-cutting restrictions on workers’ compensation. Legislative Republicans have insisted a 32 percent increase in the personal income tax rate, from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, be a part of taxpayer parity with the adoption of a local property tax freeze. Both chambers have approved workers’ comp changes and the Senate adopted a two-year freeze on property taxes. But Rauner says neither goes far enough.

That irked Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, who generated the most attention all spring by attempting to negotiate a budget-blockade break with Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. Cullerton has promoted the fact that the budget the Democrats ultimately passed was initiated by the Senate GOP and that he pushed through many of the reforms Rauner has demanded.

Despite threats to veto the plan at hand, Cullerton said he wanted the House to send it to Rauner’s desk.

“I would hope that upon reflection … that maybe he’d reconsider,” Cullerton said. “Go back and ask him what it is he wanted.”

Cullerton ticked off a list of reforms and revisions — many of them part of Rauner’s agenda — the Senate advanced, including an overhaul of pension funding, a fairer public-school funding formula, changes to workers’ compensation and an increase in the minimum wage to $15.

Two candidates for the Democratic nomination to unseat Rauner in 2018, businessman J.B. Pritzker of Chicago and Evanston Sen. Daniel Bills, issued stinging rebukes of Rauner and, in the case of Biss, both Rauner and Madigan for failing to cleanse their toxic relationship.

The Responsible Budget Coalition of social service and anti-poverty groups echoed Rauner’s upbraiding of lawmakers as derelict, saying seniors will continue to lose delivered meals and in-home care, services for the mentally ill will shrink further, and domestic violence and sexual abuse victims will find help lacking.

Without state payment to service providers, a coalition statement read, “They simply cannot survive.”

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