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Rauner and leaders meet, but ‘progress’ is a matter of opinion

Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With a looming deadline to pass a new budget, the word “progress” should be music to the ears of Illinois lawmakers and the rest of a state left reeling from an 11-month impasse over the last budget.

But Democratic statehouse sources say Gov. Bruce Rauner’s insistence on creating a working group to talk about his “Turnaround Agenda” items is a step back from the deemed “progress” made by two budget working groups.

“I’ve said that there is no one thing or two things or three things that has to happen from a grand compromise,” Rauner said while visiting a west suburban high school last week in his push for school funding reform. “I’m willing to compromise across the board.”

It’s the same language Rauner used in his February budget address.

“To take this path, we don’t have to enact every item of our Turnaround Agenda in their current forms, but we must pass real reforms this year,” Rauner said, including workers’ compensation reform, a property tax freeze and limits on collective bargaining.

Tuesday marked a shift for the governor, who just two weeks ago kept quiet about working group talks — one of which includes Illinois Budget Director Tim Nuding — so as not to derail the negotiations.

On Tuesday during closed door talks with the top legislative leaders, it appeared Rauner was back pushing to make sure his reforms are included — an assurance he needs to make any movement on a budget.

Despite the work of the working groups, it’s clear the stalemate won’t be solved without agreement between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Rauner on reforms Madigan has long deemed anti-union.

The leaders left the meeting with just one agreement: to create yet another working group to talk about Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda” reforms.

The leaders met with Rauner for the first time since two working groups last week produced recommendations for a state budget in month 10 of the impasse. The “budgeteer” working group’s recommendations included an outline for a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that included about $2.5 billion in cuts and $5.4 billion in new revenue, partially produced by raising the state’s personal income tax rate to 4.85 percent.

State Senate President John Cullerton left Rauner’s Springfield office and called the meeting “productive,” saying Rauner is in favor of revenue increases but also pushed for reforms to go along with them.

“He said he needs reforms, too, so I think we’re going to continue to have meetings to talk about the reforms that he wishes to propose as well,” Cullerton said.

Cullerton said the governor proposed the third working group — this one to discuss reforms such as workers compensation reform and collective bargaining.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks to reporters outside Gov. Bruce Rauner's office at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks to reporters outside Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

While Cullerton labeled the meeting productive, Madigan issued a statement shortly afterward, saying Rauner continues to insist upon passing his “personal agenda” before discussions on a state budget could happen.

“Since March 2015, the governor has worked with the Legislature to pass six budget measures. Not one of these measures was dependent on passage of his agenda that hurts middle-class families. Clearly, progress on the state budget is made when the governor sets aside his agenda that attacks the middle class,” Madigan said in the statement.

“The governor’s continued insistence on passage of his agenda that hurts the middle class is a clear indication he is not interested in passing and implementing comprehensive, full-year budgets that do not decimate needed services relied upon by the people of Illinois.”

Traditionally, May 31 is the end-of-season deadline for Illinois lawmakers to pass a budget. But Illinois has been without a budget since July 1, 2015 after Rauner vetoed most of the budget bills, except for one which ensured funding for K-12 education. The state’s backlog of bills now totals more than $10 billion in month 11 of the impasse

Shortly after the meeting, Madigan gathered enough votes to pass a bill to fully fund MAP grants — funded from the state’s general revenue fund. Rauner has said he’ll only approve spending bills if they come from special funds or from cuts. Lawmakers tried to pass a bill to fund tuition grants in February, which Rauner vetoed.

In a statement about the MAP bill, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the governor remains “committed to reaching a balanced budget alongside meaningful reforms in a bipartisan manner.”

After leaving the meeting with the governor, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Madigan indicated he would be open to negotiations about collective bargaining, local government control, pension reform and also workers’ compensation reform.

“Those are the keys to breaking the impasse, so I’m pleased we’re going to have a working group that’s going to be meeting very quickly,” Durkin said.

Durkin called Madigan’s willingness to talk about reforms “a reversal” for the speaker.

“We made progress today,” Durkin said, adding Democrats “have come around for the first time in many months.”

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks to lawmakers on the House floor Tuesday, May 17, 2016, in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks to lawmakers on the House floor Tuesday, May 17, 2016, in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno also said Madigan “changed his tone” but she said she was “pretty skeptical” that Madigan would enact reforms.

“I’m hopeful that there’s willingness to talk about reforms because I guarantee you the people of the state are not willing to pay more for the same lousy government they have had for the last several years,” Radogno said.

Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno in January. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno in January. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times