Cullerton puts self in Rauner’s shoes, then kicks him in pants

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Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks during a news conference Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at the state Capitol in Springfield. File Photo. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

SPRINGFIELD — Minutes after Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Democrats had “exhausted” efforts to compromise on reforms and accused Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration of not knowing how to govern, he walked into the governor’s office for a planned meeting.

It was a sign of the delicate and at times acrimonious nature of budget talks with just 21 days before the end of the legislative session.

Earlier, Cullerton attempted to push votes on three “grand bargain” bills, with just one — a measure that lowers interest rates for local government borrowing — being approved. Two others — the package’s property tax and workers’ compensation bills — were temporarily pulled back by their sponsor, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. Radogno said talks are continuing about sticking points in the two bills.

“I don’t believe any of them are insurmountable and I would ask for people’s patience. We are so close and have made so much progress that if there is a political will to get this done, we can get this done, ” Radogno said. She said pushing the package’s bills without a full agreement would take “the pressure” off to get a full agreement.

Republican Christine Radogno in 2016. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

Republican Christine Radogno in 2016. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

On the Senate floor before the vote, Cullerton noted the “grand bargain” hit an “impasse” on March 1 — when Republican votes, sans Radogno, were pulled off and the finger was pointed directly at Rauner. The state hasn’t had a full budget since July 2015.

“The whole idea of the grand bargain was to adopt those reforms early on in the session and then move it to the House and focus on the budget,” Cullerton said. “I don’t think we can wait any longer. The patience of the public is wearing, and so today I’d like to start calling these bills again.”

Later, Cullerton accused Rauner of delaying Republican votes because the bills “didn’t go far enough” and questioned his ability to “govern.”

“We have made numerous changes to these bills than when they were filed, all going towards accommodating Republicans and the governor’s office but you can only go so far and still haves the votes to pass these bills,” Cullerton said. “And we believe that we’ve just about exhausted those efforts to compromise on the reforms.”

Cullerton said he has been trying to put himself in the governor’s shoes: “He hasn’t done this before. He’s never passed a bill in the two years he’s been here.”

The North Side Democrat has been attending several closed door meetings with the governor, including one on Wednesday.  But he also accused the governor’s administration of not knowing how to “govern.”

“I’ve passed a lot of bills. I know how to pass bills. … These guys don’t know how to govern. They haven’t have a lot of practice and at some point in time you have to just agree, ‘OK, let’s make a deal’ and you have to understand the other side and understand how far they can go. And what’s at stake here is a disaster after the next 20 days if we don’t have any revenue.”

…“He’s the one who’s saying they don’t go far enough and I try to explain that you have to get people. This isn’t the private sector where I just go on and fire people if they don’t vote for something,” Cullerton said. “There’s principles involved. We have interest groups that are working against us. Everyone knows that. So I understand this because I’ve done this all, but the governor hasn’t. That’s why this is so frustrating.”

Responding to Cullerton’s critique, the governor’s office cited years of “bad deals for taxpayers” as a reason to make changes: “The problem with Springfield is they have been cutting bad deals for taxpayers for decades. It’s why people and jobs are fleeing,” spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement. “It’s time to get it right.”

Radogno later told reporters Republicans are concerned about keeping the tax increase as low as possible. In terms of the workers’ compensation bill, she said discussions have been stuck since March regarding American Medical Association guidelines. Rauner has said he wants to grant arbitrators the ability to use those guidelines as the sole factor to determine how much an injured worker is paid.

She said negotiations are “very close” on talks regarding the school funding formula and refinancing debt.

The five-year property tax freeze the Republicans are seeking is still a sticking point; Democrats want a two-year freeze.

“Now we’ve settled on yet another number. We’ve been talking about four. What are the conditions attached? Radogno said. “Again this is something that’s been going on yesterday and today. … I think it’s premature to pull the plug.”

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