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Political theater on House floor; Dems meet to discuss budget

The Illinois State Capitol Building / AP file photo

SPRINGFIELD — There was more political theater on the Illinois House floor on Thursday — and some behind-the-scenes action — as House Democrats met privately to try to plug ahead with budget measures cleared by the Illinois Senate.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday passed three budgetary measures, including a spending plan and a revenue bill that would increase the income tax rate. House Democrats began analyzing the bills a day later. There are just six days left before the end of the legislative session.

On Thursday, State Rep. Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, implored House Democrats to stop launching accusations over whether or not the governor is willing to meet with them, and to instead forge ahead in compromising on a spending plan and revenue package.

House Democrats have painted Gov. Bruce Rauner as unwilling to meet with a group appointed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has taken a behind-the-scenes role in budget negotiations amid a political war with the governor, with rank-and-file members taking a more public role.

That was reiterated on the House floor on Wednesday by Assistant Majority Leader Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, one of four appointed to the “negotiating group.” But the governor’s office said there have been offers to meet with House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, privately. And there was another attempt by phone Thursday to try to arrange a meeting with her, the governor’s office said.

“The finances of the state of Illinois are in crisis and we must do better. So, now it’s our turn. It’s not the time to debate who last invited whom to the table. It’s time to file that question away permanently. Just come to the table. It is our time for our leaders and our rank and file to meet and negotiate this to completion,” Andersson said.

Andersson said there are sincere efforts on both sides of the aisle to get a budget: “It appears that the Senate was very close. Let’s pick up where they left, whether it’s using their bills or other vehicle bills and let’s get this across the finish line. And my call, most importantly, is to compromise.”

Andersson’s call for compromise was met by accusations by Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, D-Skokie, another member of Madigan’s budget team. Lang accused Rauner of “sidestepping” the negotiating team by inviting 13 House Democrats, whom he called “political targets,” to a meeting.

“I think that says a lot about his resolve and I think it says a lot about his desire to work with the General Assembly as a co-equal branch of government,” Lang said. “. . . His actions today tell you otherwise. His actions today tell you he is not interested in resolving this crisis. He’s only interested in exacerbating it, extending it, making it worse. Governor, we think you should do your job and we think members on the other side of the aisle ought to ask him to do that so we can finish this and get our work done and stop injuring and harming the people who live in the state of Illinois.”

The governor’s office said its legislative affairs staff has been reaching out to dozens of members to brief them on the state of negotiations, but noted that “getting the facts out to members scares their leadership.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats met privately in an evening caucus to discuss the budget bills. Lang said Democrats are assessing “which of theirs [Senate] may be better, which of ours may be better.” But he said new revenue and cuts are essential.

Prior to the caucus, Lang said there are just two ways House Republicans can help to end the impasse: “They can decide to do their job instead of letting the governor do it for them. Or they can convince the governor to change his tune. So far, neither of those things have happened.”

House committees for the Senate bills are scheduled for Sunday.