The end result is nearly inevitable. We’re headed for budget cuts and a tax hike, along with perhaps some changes to workers’ compensation rules and property taxes.
We can get there the easy way or the hard way. Right now, we’re headed toward the harder path, with Democratic lawmakers poking GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner through floor speeches and constituent rallies and Rauner poking back with a return to turnaround rallies.
But we haven’t seen anything yet. This could erupt into an all-out assault, with Rauner’s threatened ad campaign that has yet to materialize and House Speaker Michael Madigan’s massive mailers, or it could be resolved more diplomatically, behind closed doors.
Last week, when GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner pulled his cabinet officers together to brace them for budget gridlock over what could be a long summer, he sought to liken his situation to another time. He told them all about how former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar didn’t get a budget done with Democratic Speaker Madigan until the third week of July during his first year in office.
That was 24 years ago, in 1991. Rauner suggested the hang-up then, as it is now, was partly over controlling out-of-reach property taxes. It’s true some of the basic dynamics are the same with a rookie Republican governor dealing with Democratic majorities, but Edgar reminded me there are some pretty significant differences, too.
It’s true Madigan didn’t talk to Edgar his first four months in office. But lawmakers always worked through June back then, not May, so getting a deal done three weeks into July wasn’t all that late.
Rauner and Madigan are sparring over changes to workers’ comp, civil lawsuits and controlling property taxes. They really aren’t fighting over the budget as much as they’d like you to think. In Edgar’s first year, the hang-up was not over property taxes, Edgar told me, though that was the perception.
That was the year a suburban outcry led to the creation of property tax caps that limited their growth in the collar counties first, then later in Cook County and elsewhere. Edgar says Madigan and then-Senate President Phil Rock gave him tax caps quickly. The big battle was over income taxes, and here’s a switch: Edgar was fighting for a permanent increase, while Madigan wanted it temporary.
“I was shocked when they gave me the property tax caps,” Edgar said, “but they didn’t care outside of Cook County.” On taxes, Edgar said of Madigan, “I wanted permanent because I didn’t want to have to go through this every two years. He loves temporary income tax increases because everyone will have to come back to him.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Rauner needs to be able to say he cut the budget and made some headway on business changes and property taxes as he continues to tout his “turnaround agenda.”
Back in 1991, once Edgar and Madigan agreed to split the difference and make part of the income tax increase for education permanent and the part for local governments temporary, the rest came quickly.
This time, though, you have Democratic supermajorities headed up by the same guys who are used to telling Democratic governors what they will and won’t do. And you have a rookie Republican governor with a new staff who might not worry too much if state workers can’t buy groceries for a few weeks.
Twenty-four years ago, the deal was worked out in the governor’s office while Madigan sliced up his daily apple. Now will it be easy or brutal?
If Jim Edgar is an elder statesman, here’s his wisdom: “I would hope both sides don’t escalate their attacks. I’m happy I haven’t seen any advertisements and I hope the Democrats stop sending their mailers. I’m not sure either side is going to scare the other side into an agreement.
“I’ve been in a lot of battles and, a year later, you can’t even remember what they were,” he said. “You get caught up in these things. Keep your eye on the bigger picture. We have to have an adequate budget, which we haven’t had for a long time.”
Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois