Madigan stays out of mix as budget clock ticks

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Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House GOP Leader Jim Durkin talk to reporters on Tuesday. Sun-Times Media.

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was noticeably absent on Tuesday — both in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Capitol office, and on the House floor.

With just two more days of legislative sessions scheduled to fix the state’s budget mess, Madigan was missing in action — blowing off a leaders meeting with Rauner, and opting not to attend the House session. And while Madigan wasn’t on the floor, Illinois Comptroller-elect Susana Mendoza visited former colleagues just before the House adjourned. The Chicago Democrat’s win was seen as a big victory in the election proxy war between Rauner and Madigan.

So where did Madigan spend his day? In his Capitol office, since 7:30 a.m., according to spokesman Steve Brown.

While he spent his hours there, he undoubtedly watched a couple of things unfold.

Rauner’s Illinois Republican Party reacted to Madigan’s no-show at the leaders meeting by unveiling a website, which sought to paint a target on three Democrats for supporting the speaker. That included Rep. Jerry Costello of Smithton, Rep. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg, and Rep. Sam Yingling of Grayslake. Yingling’s race versus Republican Rod Drobinski was one of the most expensive House races in the state.

The website is another attempt to try to divide Democrats post-election — as Republicans picked up four seats in the House. There won’t be a vote for House Speaker until Jan. 11, but it’s clear the party is pushing its messaging towards trying to chip away Madigan’s re-election power. Madigan on Monday, however, said he has “overwhelming support” to be re-elected speaker.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the site shows “disarray” in the Republican Party.

“They’re kind of in disarray because they’ve schemed to have the lame duck tax increase, and it’s blowing up,” Brown said, referencing the introduction of a House resolution and constitutional amendment to prevent lame duck tax increases. “The lame duck tax increase has been the Rauner strategy all along. He could have a bump in the road. All of his allies would be unable to vote, unless they want to violate their pledge.”

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, introduced a series of bills to try to fight off a last-minute tax hike vote. It’s an effort to try to make sure the 16 “lame ducks” don’t pass controversial bills, including a tax hike.

“The actions of unaccountable legislators have been allowed to go unchecked for too long,” Franks said.

McSweeney called “grand bargain” and “grand compromise” the scariest words in Springfield.

“That’s just a simple code phrase for a massive income tax increase,” McSweeney said. “We need to stand up for our constituents, for the working people of the state, the families of the state and oppose raising the income tax.”

McSweeney’s House Resolution hopes to put legislators on record as opposing a tax increase, and that resolution will be before a committee on Wednesday morning. Franks’ constitutional amendment would keep the threshold to approve tax increases at a three-fifths supermajority until the new Illinois General Assembly is in place.

Also on Tuesday, the Illinois House failed to override Rauner’s veto of a bill that would have made voter registration automatic in Illinois — which was viewed as a loss for Democrats.

Republican leaders were tight lipped upon leaving the governor’s office after the leaders meeting Tuesday morning. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton — who said he’d bring counterproposals regarding pension reform and workers compensation — said he had hoped for Madigan to be able to meet later that day. But that meeting never happened.

“The speaker’s absence speaks for itself,” Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, of Lemont, said. “We’ll continue to meet as much as we possibly can.”

Brown said Madigan had a 10 a.m. appointment — the time of the scheduled meeting on Tuesday. He said there are talks to meet again on Wednesday — at a time when the Legislature isn’t in session — but could not confirm the speaker’s attendance.

Rauner has said for weeks that he’d meet every day with the leaders, in Springfield or Chicago, to try to solve the budget impasse.

Rauner and the Republican leaders are pushing for a list of five reforms: workers’ compensation reform, education reform, pension reform, term limits and a property tax freeze.

Cullerton has said he’d bring in counterproposals to what is being asked; and Madigan has repeatedly said he’s sticking to the framework of the last seven budgets, ones that didn’t include reforms.

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