Gov. Bruce Rauner joined with Republican legislative and business leaders Monday to “ring the bell” on the need to strike a “grand bargain” during the eight-day push to the scheduled May 31 end of the General Assembly’s spring session.
Beyond the usual fear and loathing of the governor, I came away with the distinct desire for a team of Democratic voices who could ring their own bell.
Instead, Democrats head down the final stretch of the legislative session with no discernible team plan other than to block Rauner and with nobody to lay out a Democratic solution.
There doesn’t even seem to be any agreement on the priority of keeping open Chicago Public Schools.
As much as I disagree with major elements of Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, if there is a Democratic plan to restore Illinois’ economy, I have not heard it articulated clearly enough to communicate to others.
This is a problem. It’s a political problem for Democrats heading into November, but more important, it’s a problem for our state in the here and now.
Illinois can’t afford to lurch along another six months without a budget and without a plan, for state spending or otherwise.
If House Speaker Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and the rest of the Democratic hierarchy think they can avoid taking part of the blame in the fall for that failure just because Donald Trump is leading the Republican ticket, they could be in for a rude awakening.
The prospect of Republicans making state legislative inroads scares me because at the GOP state convention over the weekend, the party of Trump declared it’s still not even ready to embrace same-sex marriage. I don’t want to see the state backtrack on social issues.
I deplore Rauner’s willingness to use people who rely on social services as hostages to enforce his will. If he were on this November’s ballot, he’d surely take his lumps. But he’s not.
In his absence, voters’ blame could fall most heavily on those who can be portrayed as beholden to Madigan, who is held in equally low esteem.
The one place where Rauner has always made sense is that the real key to straightening out government finances in Illinois is to grow the economy.
I don’t happen agree with his belief that growing the economy necessitates screwing over working people and their right to collectively bargain.
But I do believe Democrats could take steps to send a signal beyond our borders that Illinois is still open for business, and not with some gimmicky vote intended to make the other side look bad.
In the current sky-is-falling climate perpetuated by Rauner and our state’s biggest newspaper, it won’t be enough just to fix state government finances with a tax increase.
True, a tax increase combined with some spending cuts (and I’ll admit I don’t know where to cut) could be a major step toward stabilizing the state on many fronts.
But what’s left of Rauner’s Turnaround demands — workers comp benefit reductions, property tax relief and pension “reform”— would seem to be within reach of a business-friendly compromise that Democrats could swallow, if the governor is reasonable about his demands to limit collective bargaining for public employees.
At Monday’s news conference, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno sought to correct the popular public impression that the Springfield impasse is a “battle of wills,” without directly mentioning the two leaders who are most willful — Rauner and Madigan.
Radogno said it’s actually a “battle for the future of our state.”
I’d say it’s a battle of wills with the future of our state hanging in the balance.
Democrats need to hear the alarm bells and step up now. There will be opportunities later to settle scores with Rauner.