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GOP: Dems must defy leaders who ‘pulled the plug’ on budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, looks on as Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, speaks to reporters earlier this week. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD — To end a dramatic week — full of blame games and even a screaming match – Republican leaders on Friday said their Democratic counterparts “pulled the plug” on negotiations, and challenged rank-and-file legislators to break free and pass a budget by Tuesday.

That’s a message Gov. Bruce Rauner has been sending for weeks as he continues to struggle to find common ground with Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Mike Madigan.

“They are saying they will not engage in any further negotiations,” Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said of the Democrats after a brief leaders meeting with Rauner on Friday morning. “They’re pulling the plug.”

Radogno called the Democratic leaders’ disposition a “dramatic change in tone.”

Madigan made it clear on Wednesday that he wasn’t willing to compromise on Rauner’s favored reforms — walking out of a meeting that day and saying Rauner’s “agents” weren’t being “persuasive” in the working groups. On the same day, Madigan defiantly passed a no-reforms $14.1 billion general funds budget in the Illinois House, which Rauner aides and his budget director have said the governor will veto.

“The Democrat leaders essentially pulled the plug on negotiations,” Radogno said. “They want to push the balanced budget reforms off until the fall, after the election.”

A frustrated Radogno said Madigan and Cullerton have “slow-walked the negotiations.”

“Today, the Senate president characterized this oh, not as waving the white flag, not as giving up but rather a time out,” Radogno said. “Well, we should have had a time out in April. There’s nothing that’s changed. I believe they’ve purposely slow-walked this to create a crisis.”

Prior to Friday’s meeting, Madigan had always been characterized by Rauner and the Republican leaders as the leader most unwilling to compromise in meetings with the governor.

But Radogno dubbed that behavior “good cop, bad cop.”

“It does no good for Cullerton to compromise, and he has indicated an unwillingness to cross the speaker in any way, shape or form,” Radogno said.

Cullerton left the meeting through a side door and didn’t take questions. But the Senate president later released a statement saying he suggested a “short-term compromise.”

“We remain fully committed to the working groups, but the reality is that we need revenue with reforms to have a balanced budget, and it is the end of May. If we run out of time, we have no backup plan to keep our state operating,” Cullerton said. “Today, I suggested a short-term compromise to keep the schools open, our universities open and our human service providers open while we continue to negotiate a broader, balanced-budget solution. I think that’s a practical way forward given reality.”

Cullerton’s “short-term compromise” became a little clearer when the Illinois Senate just hours later passed a bill to help Chicago pay its teacher pensions. It’s clear the Democratic leaders are hoping to pass some legislation that will get them through until a complete budget is negotiated.

After a veterans memorial event in the Capitol, Rauner addressed the meeting, saying Democratic leaders had expressed “reticence.” Rauner made it clear that he won’t support the budget bill passed by the Illinois House.

The spending plan crafted by Madigan includes a $700 million hike for schools, considered an “equity grant” in the memo, which would help CPS and other high-poverty school districts. It also includes a $7 billion deficit, prompting the governor’s office to deem it the “phoniest phony budget.”

The plan calls for spending $13.5 billion out of the state’s general revenue fund, which comes from taxes. Without a budget, most of the state has been funded by court orders and consent decrees.

After Wednesday’s contentious vote, State Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, pointed fingers and began shouting at State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

“This is b——-,” Sandack screamed as several other House Republicans also exchanged words with Democrats about the vote.

Many lawmakers say they were caught off guard by Madigan’s proposals because they have been struggling for weeks in working groups to try to strike a compromise. Rauner has long said he wants to change the worker’s compensation system, establish term limits for elected officials and is calling for a bill to allow local governments to freeze property taxes and limit collective-bargaining rights.

On Friday, Rauner reiterated his push for items in his ‘Turnaround Agenda.”

“It’s essential that we stop kicking the can. It’s essential that we have balanced budgets. It’s essential that we stop committing to spending money that we don’t have,” Rauner said, while also touting the importance of reforms he supports.

Despite strong words from Republican leaders, Rauner said negotiations continue.

“We’ll never give up,” Rauner said. “We’ve got to stay persistent.”

He urged the General Assembly to not get distracted in working groups and to forge forward to get a balanced budget.

“Don’t do Band-Aids. Don’t do an unbalanced budget. Don’t kick the can. Don’t make promises that we’re not going to honor. Let’s be honest with the people of Illinois,” Rauner said.

The governor also urged members of the working groups to “stand up to their leaders.”

“They can do the right thing and stand up and vote for reforms to get a balanced budget,” Rauner said.

Madigan said Rauner has been pushing new budget items, which he called “not helpful.”

“The governor continues to fail to persuade in his own working groups because he’s continuing to introduce new items,” Madigan said, including changes to the health-care plan for retired state workers.

The speaker also defended his budget bill, saying it’s one that doesn’t hold people hostage. He said he knows the state doesn’t have enough money to pay for the budget, but he’s prepared to negotiate with the governor to find the money to pay for those services.

“My first choice of finding the money would be taxing the wealthy,” Madigan said, adding that would come through deductions and exclusions in the Illinois income tax code.

The Senate must still take up the budget bill by Tuesday, and Madigan said he believes he has support in that chamber.

“I expect that the numbers of the state senators, especially Democrats will see it the way I see it,” Madigan said. “That this budget does not engage in hostage taking.”