Senate Democrats say it’s up to Gov. Bruce Rauner and his fellow Republicans to stop the ballyhooed ‘grand bargain’ from being nothing more than a bait-and-switch.
The near collapse of the already fragile bipartisan effort to craft a budget compromise on Wednesday was accompanied by anger, emotional outbursts and plenty of finger pointing. But Democrats and Republicans alike are holding out hope that it’s not dead. On life support perhaps but not yet ready for last rites.
“It’s not time to give up. There’s never a time to give up. We cannot give up. What would this state look like?” State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, chief sponsor of the revenue bill, said on Friday.
Senate Democrats say they’ve done what they can, and it’s now time for Rauner and Republicans to get on board. While there had been Republican requests to delay votes on the package in past weeks, Democrats’ decision Wednesday to pull the plug for lack of GOP votes created a big enough noise in the Capitol to worry lawmakers.
And some say it’s created a trust issue. Democrats wonder what’s the point in working hard to negotiate with fellow senators when the governor requests more at the last minute?
Democrats say Rauner is telling GOP senators that he wants to couple a property tax freeze with the eventual rolling back of any income tax increase.
But the governor called the notion that he was responsible for scuttling the compromise by threatening GOP lawmakers “ridiculous” and “goofy.”
“We’ve been trying to get a grand bargain and a compromise to grow jobs, get a balanced budget and properly fund our schools for months and months, and nobody wants to get a grand bargain more than me,” Rauner told reporters on Friday.
“And I’m willing to compromise. I’ve said there’s nothing that has to be in the deal. There’s no one thing or no two things that have to be in the deal, and I’m encouraging as I always have, both Democrats and Republicans to come together to compromise and get a deal and I’m encouraging it every day.”
But Cullerton says Democrats and Republicans already did come together.
“The compromise is there. The governor’s got to realize that this is as good as it’s going to get. Can we make some minor changes? Of course we can. We’ve been doing that for a month with the Senate Republicans but he’s got to grow up and get this solved,” Illinois Senate President John Cullerton told reporters on Wednesday. “He’s the governor.”
Cullerton on Wednesday announced on the Senate floor that there would be no grand bargain votes — just a day after the Senate passed five of the package’s bills, including a measure to give Chicago Public Schools $215 million to help pay its teacher pensions, gaming expansion, local government consolidation, procurement reform and a bill to provide funding for public universities and social service agencies.
There were seven Republicans on board, including Radogno, for the spending bill. Yet the votes for a bill to pay for that spending — the contentious revenue bill that includes a hike of the income tax rate to 4.99 percent — were nowhere to be found the next day.
“Unfortunately I’ve been informed that the governor has decided to interject himself in this process and doesn’t want this approved in this form,” Cullerton, D-Chicago, said, calling the plan in a “holding pattern.”
“We are looking at going in the hole $11 million a day, every single day, we don’t get this solved,” Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said on the floor. “So I think there’s enough good will in this building. I know the governor will be joining us in trying to get that done, but we need to get it done soon.”
Radogno’s speech came hours after she met with Cullerton in his office to tell him they’d have no Republican votes besides her own. Radogno — whose leadership has been praised on both sides of the aisle — was visibly frustrated with the news, a source with close knowledge of the meeting said. While Radogno had worked tirelessly to try to get her members onboard for some unpopular bills, she ultimately was left alone by her caucus.
State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, contends Rauner had called in Republican members and “threatened” them if they voted for the grand bargain bills.
State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-West Dundee, considered an ally to the Rauner administration, told reporters she was among the Republicans to meet with Rauner — although she has yet to vote yes on a grand bargain bill.
“No threats at all,” McConnaughay said, while describing the governor as being “very engaged and very supportive” of the plan. She said they talked about ensuring “we make good decisions for the taxpayers of Illinois.”
“If we’re going to increase taxes in one area, we have to find relief elsewhere,” she said.
Rauner had been mum about his involvement in the grand bargain plan for weeks, but broke his silence during his budget address — saying he wants a permanent property tax freeze instead of the temporary one attached to the plan, and he doesn’t want a sales tax on food and medicine. That tax never made it into the plan but had been discussed.
But State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said she was informed by Republican colleagues that the governor asked them for “one more thing” — rolling back the income tax after five years of a property tax freeze.
Steans summed up the Republican back down as a fear of primaries — and GOP party funding led by Rauner.
“I fully believe that people get afraid of primaries just like they do on my side of the aisle. But who is in charge of resources on the other side of the aisle? Our Republican governor,” Steans said.
Some Republicans, however, said they backed out because there’s more work to do, including changes to the property tax and the school funding formula bills.