SPRINGFIELD — As Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan forged through on reform measures deemed phony by Republicans, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday said he’ll keep legislators in Springfield until they “get the job done.”
Legislators have until Friday night to pass a budget before the beginning of a new fiscal year — with the very real threat of transportation projects shutting down, rating agencies downgrading the state’s bond status to “junk,” and a bevy of other ills.
“If the legislature fails to send a balanced budget package to my desk by Friday, we will have no choice but to keep them in session until they get the job done,” Rauner said in a statement about legislative negotiations.
Lawmakers have been in a special session since Wednesday, June 21. Rauner initially called for 10 days of special session in order to try to come to an agreement. But there are still divisions when it comes to some of the governor’s preferred reforms, which he says are needed for him to sign a budget.
Despite that rift, House Democrats voted on four reforms, with just one — a four-year property tax freeze — failing. It exempted home rule municipalities and the effective date was marked immediate, meaning it needed 71 votes to clear. The other reforms — workers’ compensation, pension reform and local government consolidation — required just 60 votes.
And with the passage of some of the governor’s preferred reforms, Madigan can say he tried to tackle Rauner’s budgetary demands ahead of passing a spending plan.
Democrats implored Republicans to put votes on the board, even if they didn’t fully agree with them.
“Please, take a win. We are going to put bills on the board that are not 100 percent of what you want here but they’re going to be awfully, darn close,” said State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago. “. . . At some point in the next 72 hours, vote on bills that you can go home and say we got reform. Take a win, please. The state needs you guys to rise to the occasion right now.”
But Republicans balked at that claim, arguing negotiations are ongoing, and voting on the reforms interrupts the process. They argued that the reforms aren’t just on the governor’s wish list, but are needed to put the state back on healthy financial footing.
“We can’t do this. We can’t vote in good conscience on this. This isn’t about not taking the win,” said State Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva. “It’s about finishing the work and then taking the win together.”
Senate Democrats were uneasy about a four-year property tax freeze because of concerns over poor school districts. But the House Democratic measure excluded Chicago Public Schools and 18 other financially strapped school districts, while also excluding pension debt.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn-Currie, D-Chicago, said the property tax bill showed “how far out of the way we have gone.”
“This is our effort to say to the governor, although we don’t think we need non-budgetary items to govern budgetary decisions, we understand that it is very important to the person who currently occupies the second floor,” she said on the floor. “So we are prepared to go a good, long way toward what it is that Governor Rauner has requested in order to see to it that we can have a budget.”
While the workers’ compensation bill passed, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association was in opposition, saying it made some cost-cutting changes but also increased the cost on employers. They said it fails to address the high costs of medical treatment by changing the medical fee schedule, among other factors.
Meanwhile, legislative leaders planned to meet again on Thursday morning.
Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown called extra special session days “not surprising.”
“All he [Rauner] needs to do is understand that the Legislature has gone way past middle ground to compromise,” Brown said. “We’ve been working on his reforms.”