SPRINGFIELD — House Speaker Michael Madigan finally met with the other legislative leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday — but he left Republicans more confused than ever.
The powerful Southwest Side Democrat emerged from the once postponed meeting and told reporters he’d appointed a member of his caucus as “chief negotiator” on the budget for House Democrats.
Minutes later, Republicans expressed surprise.
“I have to say, we listened to the Speaker’s comments, and we’re frankly confused by them,” Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said in her own news conference. “To have another negotiating team come in was not what was agreed to.”
Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called Madigan’s move a way to run out the clock on budget talks.
After leaving the 30-minute leaders meeting with Rauner on Tuesday, Madigan announced he’s appointing a new negotiating team, chaired by Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago. The speaker said he’d add other members to the team within the next two days.
The governor and leaders will meet again on Wednesday — this time with Harris alongside Madigan. A stopgap spending plan approved in June is set to expire in just six weeks.
“I know what I want to discuss going in because I’ve got homeless youth that are struggling. There are college and universities that are struggling. There are schools that are struggling across the state of Illinois. We need to give them some finality,” Harris told the Sun-Times. “We’ve got to make sure we do something fair for everyone involved.”
Harris said he’ll represent the interests of House Democrats across the state. And he noted ending the budget impasse won’t be easy: “If this was going to be easy, this would be done.”
In his comments to reporters, Madigan urged the leaders and Rauner to “follow the framework used on seven successive budgets” — past budgets that Rauner and Republicans have largely criticized.
“Use the same framework and the odds are you’ll get a budget to finish off the fiscal year,” Madigan said. “We’ll be able to provide for a good level of funding for education. We’ll be able to provide for public safety. We’ll be able to provide for the seniors and for the vulnerable in our society.”
Madigan said there would be an “open discussion” during Wednesday’s meeting with Harris as the chief leader of a negotiating team.
But Radogno had a different takeaway from the meeting, saying no one agreed to Madigan’s creation of a new negotiating team — separate from the budgetary working groups tasked with solving the state’s budget crisis.
“We will be beginning with the framework of the working groups. There was no agreement that there would be another round of negotiating teams. It’s time that the leaders do what they need to do. The working groups did what they need to do. And we need as leaders to get to the table — the five of us — and make the final decision in order to serve the people of Illinois.”
Radogno said Madigan’s move is a continuation of his anti-Rauner efforts.
“It seems to me right now that the speaker is still trying to make the governor the enemy, and now is the time to serve the people of Illinois, and that is just not happening.”
Of Wednesday’s proposed meeting, Radogno said she’s “suspicious.”
“But at least they’ve agreed to attend,” Radogno said. “And we have a document that we’ll be working off of.”
Durkin said Democratic leaders should feel more of a sense of urgency, with spending authority running out at the end of December. He said he won’t support another stopgap budget, just a comprehensive full-year budget.
“We’re at a tipping point. We are willing to work with the Democrats with their priorities but it’s a two-way street. They have to work with us on our priorities. If we can do that we will get a good product and the governor will sign a budget,” Durkin said. “But going down the same road and saying ‘it’s our way or the highway,’ which the Democrats have been doing for the past two years, is going to put the state in further peril.”
Durkin called Madigan’s negotiating team a way to run out the clock: “That’s my fear. If they’re continuing to say we’re going to appoint new members to our negotiating team that is a sense of running out the clock. This is now a matter for the four leaders and the governor to resolve the work produced from these committees over the last two years, which we can get done.”
Democratic leaders skipped a leaders meeting with the governor on Monday — Madigan citing a scheduling conflict, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton saying it would be more productive to meet alongside the longtime speaker.
That decision brought out harsh words from Republican leaders, who told Madigan to “get over” the election — in which Republicans picked up four seats in the Illinois House and two in the Senate. Madigan soon after said he’d attend a meeting Tuesday morning.
Madigan told reporters Rauner spoke about pension reform and new revenue in the meeting, but declined to further elaborate.
“You should ask him that question,” Madigan said.
The budget stalemate has gone on for 18 months, with the state’s debt skyrocketing and many human and health services programs receiving little to no funding. Rauner and Republican leaders are pushing for reforms, warning that budget cuts and a tax increase won’t be enough to secure the state.
Also on Wednesday, the Illinois Senate will likely call a vote on an override of the automatic voter registration bill, which Rauner vetoed in August. They’ll also seek to vote on a bill passed in the House in March that would give Chicago an elected school board.