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Rauner camp calls Cullerton’s ‘mental state’ remark ‘inappropriate’

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, calls on Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to have a meeting to discuss the changes the governor wants made to Senate Bill 1 at the state Capitol, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. (Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

After days of listening to Gov. Bruce Rauner accuse Democratic leaders of holding a school funding bill to create a crisis, state Senate President John Cullerton on Wednesday said he’ll send the bill on Monday — pinning his delay on the governor’s “mental state.”

The comment came after the Senate president called the governor to request a meeting, which Rauner declined while demanding the bill be sent to his desk. The governor for weeks has said that he plans to issue an amendatory veto — to, in part, remove Chicago teacher pension costs from the bill — as soon as the measure hits his desk.

Rauner has said “there’s nothing to discuss,” arguing that House Speaker Michael Madigan is fomenting panic at the cost of schoolchildren across the state.

“It’s because of the mental state of the governor. It’s been the fact, as I said, he’s really had a bad month,” Cullerton told reporters in explaining why the bipartisan bill that passed both chambers on May 31 hasn’t been sent to the governor’s desk.

Cullerton too said a motion to reconsider — which essentially freezes movement of the bill until it is lifted — was filed “because the governor was angry about all the budget stuff.”

The governor’s office scoffed at the explanation — while not specifically addressing the governor’s “mental state.”

“That doesn’t even make sense. The education funding bill was passed in May. The budget and veto override were in July. What is Sen. Cullerton’s excuse for the entire month of June? Why is the Senate sitting on this? Send the bill to the governor already so that parents and kids know their schools will open on time,” Rauner spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email.

But by Wednesday afternoon, the state’s Department of Human Services released a statement criticizing Cullerton for his remark: “For a political leader to perpetuate this stigma to score political points is completely inappropriate and we respectfully request that our leaders stop doing so,” Diana Knaebe of the Illinois Division of Mental  Health said.

A Cullerton spokesman responded that the Democrat was not suggesting that the governor was mentally ill, but rather that he was letting his anger guide his decisions.

In two press conferences, Rauner on Wednesday said it’s wrong to divert money to a pension payment for Chicago. He again declined to offer specifics about what’s in his proposed amendatory veto, pinning the blame on the General Assembly.

Gov. Bruce Rauner calls on Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, to send Senate Bill 1 to his desk as he is surrounded by members of the Republican caucus during a news conference on the first day of a special session on education funding at the state Capitol, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. (Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

“They have a job to appropriate money and to have money available for schools. That’s their job. I have no bill. How outrageous. Aren’t you, like, incredulous? Isn’t this stunning? How did we allow this? Our children are being held hostage by these politicians. This is fundamentally wrong. This is such a failure for the families of Illinois. We should not accept that,” Rauner said.

Democratic leaders say an amendatory veto is dangerous because there are several ways in which the measure can fail. If Rauner offers his proposed fixes to the bill in an amendatory veto, the Senate must either vote to accept the changes, which is highly unlikely, or vote to override. The measure would also be dead if the Senate didn’t take up the veto. Should the Senate fail to override, the measure will die. That would mean there would be nothing in place to get state aid to schools to open in time this fall. Legislators would have to go back to the drawing board and craft a new measure.

If the measure is overridden in the Senate, it must still be overridden in the House, where Madigan would have to round up House Republican votes as he did in passing a tax and budget package.

Both Madigan and Cullerton have warned that a Rauner amendatory veto may not pass constitutional muster — if he changes too much of the bill. The governor has disputed that.

But should the veto make it over to the House, Madigan on Wednesday said he believed “there’s a good possibility of an override.”

“We need reasonable people, again Democrats and Republicans, as we did on the budget and on the 911 funding to resolve the differences which are leading toward an impasse,” the speaker said, while imploring that Rauner shouldn’t veto the measure, which he called “fair to the entire state.”