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Rauner softens stance a bit, but Dems unimpressed

By Mark Fitton | Jun 26, 2015


SPRINGFIELD —Democrats and Republicans on Thursday began digging in for war.

While Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bulk of the Legislature’s proposed budget and penned a newspaper editorial, Speaker Michael Madigan announced another whole-House hearing and began laying blame on the governor for an expected government shutdown.

In his veto message, the Republican governor said he was protecting “taxpayers from an unbalanced and therefore unconstitutional budget.”

The governor continued to reject a spending plan about $3 billion to $4 billion short, depending on who’s doing the math, and maintained his demands for structural change to state government.

“We must be partners in enacting a balanced budget that meets critical public needs within the resources available,” the Winnetka Republican said in his veto message. “The surest way to do that is by enacting structural reforms inside government and economic reforms that stimulate our economy and bring new jobs to Illinois.“

Said Speaker Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, "It is good the House set the wheels in motion Wednesday for a Committee of the Whole hearing on agency preparations for the government shutdown. It seems the Governor missed an opportunity to avoid disrupting the lives of many, many middle class families for the sake of non-budget issues.”

The day before, the governor did sign a Democrat-backed bill to fund primary and secondary education, meaning schools can open on time.

So while teachers and public safety workers such as state troopers and prison guards will continue to work and be paid because the law allows for it, other state agencies will begin shutting down come Wednesday, July 1.

That’s the day — barring an unexpected development — Illinois will begin fiscal year 2016 without a budget.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) said he believes Rauner will hold his ground and "do what is best for the state."

“Now the governor is going have to negotiate on his reforms," McCarter said.

“I believe the agenda the governor has put forward is one that makes sense for the people of Illinois and our future. His prescription is the right one and I am going to stand with him until we get this done.”

State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) indicated the Governor did the right thing in vetoing the majority of the Democrats' budget.

"You have to stop and ask yourself how the world comes out if you pass a spending bill that is $4 billion more than you can afford based on projected revenue," Kay said. "Nobody does that in a state that is broken and is down to essentially the last penny. “

Rauner softened his tone and made no outright attacks in an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune. He also made concessions on timing, for instance indicating he might be willing to delay his insistence on legislative votes to authorize constitutional ballot questions on term limits and independent legislative redistricting.

The governor also shortened his call for a local property tax freeze to a two-year period, but it remains coupled with restrictions on collective bargaining and the diminishment of the prevailing wage act for local-government projects.

Rauner also indicated he was willing to work, at the suggestion of Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on areas including more equitable distribution of school funding and addressing the state’s $110 billion unfunded pension obligation.

Democrats didn’t appear impressed.

“It looks to me like he wants to shut the government down,” said Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, a pro-labor union Democrat.

“I think he’s trying to put pressure on legislators, and I honestly think in the long run it's going to backfire on him,” Verschoore said. “He’s not going to get Democrats to back away from their principles, (which include) helping working men and women.”

Verschoore is among Democrats who argue Rauner’s large scheme to weaken organized labor, especially in the public sector.

“It appears that the governor would rather move the state toward a shutdown rather than reasonable compromises that protect the middle class with a balanced approach to budgeting,” said Rikeesha Phelon, Cullerton’s spokeswoman.

Cullerton intends to discuss all of the options and the next steps with his caucus, she said.

Madigan continues to argue that on key Rauner demands such as workers comp and tort reform, the governor is unreasonably holding up the state’s budget.

“These non budget issues that have been thoroughly debated,” the speaker said in a written statement. “Some were adopted by the House. Others were rejected when there was no persuasive case made."

Republicans say the governor is doing what he must to set right the state. And, they argue, he’s being both responsible and reasonable.

Without changes to how Illinois does business, they say Illinois will never be competitive and will continue to lose jobs, residents and revenue to other states.

“I think it’s extremely forthright and clear that the governor said in order for the state to get set get past just survival, we have to have a balanced budget,” said Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. “The budget that he vetoed was simply not balanced.”

Radogno blamed Democrats, largely Madigan, for phrases like “the Rauner shutdown” and said Democrats had rebuffed the governor’s offers of compromise with stunts.

“The governor has offered numerous compromises and extended the olive branch many, many times,” she said. “Every effort the governor has made to be reasonable and accommodating has been rebuffed with nothing but a pure show of power.”

And Radogno was very clear Rauner and Republican legislators are firm when they insist they won’t talk about new revenues until they see structural change.

“No revenues before reforms,” she said.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said the governor did what he had to do in vetoing the budget bills, but Rauner on the same day also reached out to Democrats in his veto message and in his piece in the Tribune.

For years and years, Illinois has been overspending, overpromising, over-taxing and under-delivering, Sandack said.

“Now, we have a governor who’s said, ‘Enough, I won’t do it anymore, the state is financially insolvent and nearly bankrupt, so we’re going to redo things,’” Sandack said. “I think that’s room for optimism.”

“I read and re-read the governor's message. It is incredibly conciliatory in tone and in substance,” said Sandack, the GOP’s debate leader in the House.

The governor still has some big demands on the table, said longtime Capitol observer Kent Redfield, who added he said he thinks only genuine face-to-face negotiations will yield results.

“I don’t think this gets done until the two (Democratic) leaders and the governor sit down across the table and get together in the same room,” said Redfield, political science professor emeritus at U of I Springfield.

That does not mean the onus is only the governor, he added.

“The Democrats are going to have give, too, if we’re to get this done.”

Redfield said he expects a shutdown.

“I think we are a long way from solving anything,” he said.

— The bills vetoed by the governor were HB 4146, HB 4147, HB 4148, HB 4151, HB 4153, HB 4154, HB 4158, HB 4159, HB 4160, HB 4165, SB 2029, SB 2030, SB 2031, SB 2032, SB 2033, SB 2034, SB 2035, SB 2036, SB 2037

— Illinois News Network journalists Scott Reeder, Lesley Nickus and Greg Bishop also contributed to this report. Illinois News Network is a division of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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Chicago Tribune Illinois Policy Institute Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter (R-54th)

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