Mark Fitton May 7, 2015, 7:40am


SPRINGFIELD — In baseball, it’s called a message pitch.

If the batter gets cocky and crowds the plate, the pitcher sends one high and tight to remind everyone there’s more than one party trying to establish advantage and control.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, appeared to throw just such a message — and then some — at Gov. Bruce Rauner and the GOP Wednesday.

Personally sponsoring an amendment to an existing bill, the speaker proposed a human services budget for fiscal year 2016 that was deeply cut and nearly exactly what Rauner has proposed. The proposed budget included Medicaid.

By Madigan’s own description, the budget he put up Wednesday was $1.2 billion lighter in general fund spending and $1.9 billion lighter in spending from all other revenues.

That left House Republicans in a difficult spot

If they voted for the measure, they’d be endorsing deep and unpopular cuts that would probably never make it out of the General Assembly. Should they vote against it, they’d be in direct opposition to their own party leader.

In the end, no one — not even Madigan — voted for the amendment. It failed with Democrats in opposition, Republicans voting “present” and the speaker not casting a vote at all.

Republicans were not happy.

“This is not the time for political stunts,” said Rauner spokesman Lance Trover. “Governor Rauner stands ready to work with Democrats to pass real structural changes to our government and enact a balanced budget.

“Rather than engaging in political theater, we ask Democrats to meet the governor at the negotiating table and help turn our state around,” Trover said.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said Democrats were manipulating the process and breaking faith by dropping an $11 billion proposal on the House with scant notice.

“It’s not appropriate for this chamber and it doesn’t reflect a spirit of bipartisan cooperation that I’ve committed myself to and all my members have committed themselves during the course of what will be a very challenging budget year,” Durkin said.

Madigan wasn’t done.

Democrats next brought forth and began passing a stack of additional amendments that would restore human services funding and programs to near-2015 levels.

Republicans were steamed.

“This is an absolute sham,” said Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove. “This bill deserves the real process.”

He called the events “show votes and political gamesmanship.”

GOP members also accused Democrats of trying to approve spending without the revenues to pay for it.

That, the GOP said, seemed much like the process for this year, fiscal year 2015, when the state found itself with months to go and about $1.6 billion light.

“You can run this place, just like you’re trying to right now, but you can’t fund it,” said Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein. “That’s why we had to bail you out of last year’s budget.”

It’s hard to tell what Wednesday’s events will ultimately mean. Democrats passed about a half-dozen of 15 proposed amendments before packing it in for the day.

Those measures, the bill on which they ride and those yet to be considered remain in the House. Madigan and his super-majority Democrats might let them sit, they might send them on to the Senate, or they might change them again.

Political analyst Kent Redfield said Madigan might not be trying to embarrass legislative Republicans so much as he is sending a message meant mainly for Rauner.

Rauner, he noted, has leverage through his election and is trying to build more by stumping for his “Turnaround Illinois” agenda The governor wants a lot of change — not just in budgets — and he’s pushing hard, Redfield noted.

“I think this is a very public signal that it’s time to start talking rather than having press conferences, having meetings on the turnaround agenda, making ‘non-negotiable’ demands … I think the speaker is pushing back,” Redfield said. “I think this was a demonstration on the speaker’s part that if we’re just calling a bluff from either direction, then we’re not going to get anywhere.”

In essence, Redfield said, Madigan might be answering the governor’s political theater with a powerful little show of his own.

Madigan might have hinted at just that when taking a question from the Republican side of the aisle.

“There has been a change in Illinois government,” the speaker said. “There was a general election and the election of a new governor. The new governor has a different approach than the last governor. I would say we ought to be prepared to adjust to this new set of circumstances, which is what we’re doing today.”

Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute. 

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