It’s been less than a month since the end of the elections and already state lawmakers seem to be barreling right into the next one.
Illinois legislative leaders made little progress toward a state budget agreement Sunday, after meeting for the second straight day at Gov. Bruce Rauner’s offices in Chicago. However, GOP Senate leader Christine Radogno says the lack of progress is a strategy by state Democrats to better position themselves for the 2018 elections.
“I see the tactic here is to stall, stall, stall, create a crisis and then force the state into another stopgap budget,” Radogno said. “I’m becoming increasingly suspicious that they’d like to run the clock out.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan complained the budget was discussed for only 14 minutes during the meeting. Which is an improvement, considering Republican and Democratic leaders disagreed whether or not the budget even came up when asked in press conferences on Saturday.
As of Sunday, Illinois still does not have a budget, and after two days of meetings, lawmakers discussed it for less time than the average employee’s state-mandated lunch break.
However, Radogno argued that the brevity of discussion was by state Democrats’ design.
“Today we said, ‘OK, what are your ideas on the budget?’ ” Radogno said. “[Madigan] had Greg Harris there — his appointed spokesman — unprepared to talk about the budget.”
Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, countered that unknowns in the future of the state’s economic situation needed to be “accurately accounted for” before a substantive discussion could take place.
The weekend of meetings comes after lawmakers failed to secure a budget following a veto session last fall — and with just over three weeks before state appropriations run out on Dec. 31.
House Republican leader Jim Durkin said GOP lawmakers would be willing to work with Democrats on a stopgap budget but reiterated that agreement would need to include a property tax freeze and term limits, two reforms the governor’s office believes are necessary for a balanced budget. Madigan insists the reforms should be independent of budget discussions. The impasse has resulted in the governor not signing a comprehensive budget in two years.
On Friday, heading into the weekend meetings, Rauner urged lawmakers to “stay mature” and warned that “pointing fingers doesn’t help.” Despite the call for civility, both Democrats and Republicans could not keep their hands to themselves.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday ripped into Rauner’s veto of a Senate bill that would have gone toward Chicago Public School teacher pensions. Emanuel called the decision “reckless and irresponsible” and accused Rauner of prioritizing the needs of utility companies over the needs of CPS students. On Sunday, a frustrated Durkin argued that gridlock is beneficial to state Democrat’s long-term political goals.
“Its more a statement about the 2018 re-election efforts of the governor,” Durkin said. “There is a very strong feeling on behalf of the Democratic leadership not to have the governor re-elected and not to deliver any victories for this governor.”
Harris argued lawmakers have a number of questions to answer before substantive progress can be made. Among them, Illinois’ new road lockbox amendment, which requires all transportation related fees and taxes be used exclusively for transportation-related expenses. Harris also referenced the incoming Trump administration and looming questions regarding block grants for Medicaid.
“These will have profound implications on our state budget-making,” Harris said.
Radogno believes these questions are being raised as an attempt to stall talks until a Dec. 31 deadline for state appropriations guaranteed by the stopgap budget. Radogno says both parties are up to date about what information is available regarding the new road lockbox amendment. When it comes to questioning ramifications of the incoming presidential administration, Radogno says waiting for answers is not a option.
“If we’re waiting on that, we’re certainly not going to know it before Dec. 31st,” Radogno said. “People of this state don’t want more of the same. We have time to do it. They’re stalling. We will continue to engage and be ready to move with legislation as soon as they’re willing to do that.”
Legislative leaders will meet again Tuesday.
Contributing: Tina Sfondeles