SPRINGFIELD — Democratic leaders on Monday for the first time spoke of scheduled sessions in June, as the budget deadline ticks loudly and Republican leaders appear unlikely to agree with Democrats on a budget bill.
It appeared the contentious 11-month budget battle will not be tied up neatly by Tuesday night — as Republican leaders accused Democrats of holding taxpayers hostage amid a political feud with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and of forcing a tax increase.
The deadline is midnight Tuesday. On Wednesday, approving state budgets in the Illinois House and Senate will require more votes.
But Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Monday said he’s holding out some hope for the 30 votes needed in the Democrat-led Senate to pass a spending bill. All the while he accused the governor of “hostage taking.”
“Hostage taking is when you don’t pass an entire budget at all for two straight years in exchange for some nebulous business friendly reforms,” Cullerton said after a brief leaders meeting with the governor.
Rauner has long tried to get Democratic leaders to negotiate on some of his “Turnaround Agenda” items. And those pro-business, anti-union reforms have been discussed at length during meetings among working groups.
Earlier, Cullerton said his plan is to pass a spending bill then “accelerate” talks with the governor. He also said he doesn’t believe Rauner, whom he called an education “advocate,” will veto all of the budget bill, specifically its education funding.
“He [Rauner] surprised everyone last year. The Republicans voted no on the education budget, and then he signed it,” Cullerton said.
The Illinois House last week passed a spending bill with a $7 billion deficit which included about $760 million for education spending, although it didn’t explain where that money would come from.
Cullerton said his caucus was working on finding revenue for that spending.
After a brief meeting with Rauner and the leaders — within minutes of an override of a Rauner veto of the city’s police and fire pension bill — Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan announced he’s requesting that the governor continue his working groups, tasked with talking revenue and reforms, even after Tuesday’s deadline. And he announced the House would be in session every Wednesday through June. Cullerton also said the Senate would be “available” to work through June.
The talk of June sessions translated to a lot of frustration, including from Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. Durkin stepped out of Rauner’s office saying Democrats are scaling back “to move into the summer.”
“It’s becoming more clear to myself, the governor and also to [Illinois Senate Republican Leader] Sen. [Christine] Radogno that the Democrat leadership is not prepared to move forward with a comprehensive balanced budget tomorrow,” Durkin said.
Radogno said Democrats are trying to force a massive tax increase right after the election. And she warned that there is no provision right now to fund elementary and high school education, adding she has helped introduce several education bills to try to ensure schools open in time.
Durkin said the Democrats are stalling because they’re focused on the 2018 gubernatorial election.
“I think it’s pretty clear just in talking to people in the building and outside the building is that they don’t want to see Gov. Rauner get re-elected,” Durkin said. “So it’s just my impression — ‘they’ meaning organized labor and also the Democrats who run both chambers.”