It took two years, but it’s finally happened. I’ve found a topic on which I seem to be in agreement with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.
This big Nov. 18 summit meeting between Rauner and the four top legislative leaders, during which they are supposed to publicly negotiate an end to the budget impasse, is a little silly.
Silly is my word, not Rauner’s, who has chosen his words more carefully but let on plenty with a well-timed eye roll while speaking dismissively about the meeting on Monday with a Bloomington audience.
These were his words:
“Somebody said let’s have a big group, and let’s get all four of you and the leaders in a room and turn the TV cameras on. Oh, great.”
“Talk about posturing. Now everybody’s going to posture. How many people, what human being likes to negotiate in front of a TV camera and make a compromise in front of TV? People don’t do that.”
“But we’ll meet on Nov. 18 and put it on television. Whatever. I don’t think it’s going to matter much.”
As regular readers know, it pains me to agree with Rauner about anything, but I can’t find a word there with which to object, right down to the “Whatever.”
It pains me especially in this case because the idea for the meeting originated with some well-intentioned good government types of whom I’d normally want to be supportive.
They were frustrated by the fact the state is more than three months into a new budget year without the tiniest sign of progress on a budget agreement despite casualties mounting by the day.
Historically, these kinds of stalemates have necessitated face-to-face negotiations between the governor and the Four Tops, as we used to call the legislative leaders before the musical reference became too obscure.
But the good government types, led by Susan Garrett, a former Democratic legislator who now is board chairman at Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, saw no evidence that any negotiations were even taking place, so they issued a public letter requesting a meeting and offering to help facilitate it.
House Speaker Mike Madigan was the first to respond. Madigan was supportive of the effort and asked if she’d considered making the meeting public, Garrett said.
Garrett said she’d originally wanted to request a public meeting, but that her coalition partners thought that might be asking too much. She said she asked them again, this time armed with Madigan’s interest, and they quickly agreed.
Everyone else fell in line soon afterward, and now the meeting is scheduled for Nov. 18 with Rauner saying he will take it from here and set the agenda.
That’s created one last hitch.
“The speaker has said he wants to see the agenda before he’s totally on board,” Garrett said.
As you probably know, Madigan has been demanding Rauner set aside his Turnaround Agenda and concentrate on the budget. Rauner told reporters Friday that the meeting will have a comprehensive agenda that will include “structural reform,” revenue, taxes and spending levels.
It’s Rauner’s notion of “structural reform” to which Madigan objects, although I don’t see any way the speaker can back out of the meeting at this point without bringing more condemnation on himself and other Democrats.
Just the same, if Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton keep their date with Rauner as they should, they’d better come fully prepared with as many sound bites as budgetary facts and figures.
Neither of them might want to admit it, but Rauner is better at this game of using a public forum to sell his position than they are.
Garrett said that “under normal circumstances” she would agree with me about serious negotiations being better conducted in private, but with no sign of that taking place, she said “we’ve got to try something.”
Rauner said he has been holding one-on-one meetings with the legislative leaders instead of bringing them all together “because the dynamic among the four is not real constructive.”
I still think it’s the fifth person that is the problem, but I don’t want to spoil the moment.