Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday accused House Speaker Michael Madigan of being “obstinate” and creating a “distraction” that’s meant to “derail” bipartisan talks in the Illinois Senate seeking to end the budget impasse.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown in turn urged the Republican governor to look in the mirror to accept responsibility for the failure of the Senate “grand bargain” plan in March: “‘Hey Bruce, why did you screw that up?'”
It’s a clear sign the political war between Madigan and Rauner is in full effect with just 15 days left before the end of the legislative session, a gubernatorial primary next March, and no clear budget solution in sight.
Talks between senators and the governor’s budget director are continuing on bills relating to the budget and other reforms the governor is seeking. But those must still clear the Illinois House, where Democrats are now trying to pass their own pension reform bill with identical language to a Republican measure filed in late March.
The state has been without a full budget since July 2015, leaving a nearly $13 billion backlog of bills, and social service agencies and public universities in the lurch.
Four top House Democratic deputies appointed by Madigan to work with the governor’s office on so-called non-budget issues said Tuesday they haven’t heard from the governor’s office. Rauner called their efforts a Madigan attempt to derail Senate talks.
“House Democrats under Speaker Madigan have been sending over special interest groups to attack the senators on the Democratic caucus to try to kill the ‘grand bargain,’ ” Rauner said in Springfield on Tuesday. “House Democrats under Speaker Madigan have shown really no good faith, willingness to engage in negotiations with true change, true reforms to our system.
“Speaker Madigan in our four leader meetings has always been obstinate, just not wanting to really have good-faith negotiations and come to an agreement,” the governor said. And I think that my sense is this is probably a last-minute attempt by the House Democrats to create a distraction and derail the senators who seem to be making progress and are coming close to an agreement. So I think we need to focus on the Senate and try to get that done.”
Rauner’s comments echoed those made in an op-ed he penned in the State Journal-Register in which he said he’s fighting to stop “career Chicago politicians from squeezing you dry.” And he accused Democrats of “buckling under enormous pressure” from Madigan, lobbyists and special interests “who want to maintain the status quo.”
Brown said accusations that Madigan is attempting to thwart the plan have “no basis in fact.” As for the speaker directing special interest groups, Brown said Rauner has provided no proof: “I don’t think any of that is going on to the best of my knowledge.
Brown pinned efforts to “derail” the plan on the governor himself.
“I think he ignores the fact that he’s the chief architect at destroying the Senate budget talks. I mean on multiple occasions he’s destroyed any effort to pass bills over there. I mean, I think he needs to go look at the history of his own activity,” Brown said. “Maybe look at a mirror, say ‘Hey Bruce, why did you screw this up?'”
Republicans, sans Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, jumped ship on the bipartisan “grand bargain” package in March — with top Democrats blaming Rauner for pulling the plug. At the time, Republicans said they needed more of a comprehensive agreement, including one with property tax relief.
On Tuesday, Rauner said senators are working on the “right issues” during the latest negotiations: term limits, a property tax freeze, government consolidation, pension reform and education funding reform. And he said “they’re getting close.”
Sticking points last week among Senate negotiations were changes in workers’ compensation and a property tax freeze.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, on Tuesday said talks remained “cordial” but that Democrats and Republicans are “a couple hundred million apart.” The group of senators met for the second time this week on Tuesday.
Brady said Republicans are waiting to see details of the education funding formula. Democrats have said they’re concerned over school funding amid a property tax freeze, and what that would mean for schools already in deficit spending.
“We’re more focused on where we can prioritize spending but reduce systemic growth and spending so it is a balanced plan. We’ve already said that we’d be willing to consider an [income tax] increase of 1.2 percent. That would be temporary along with a property tax freeze,” Brady said. “Probably the biggest stumbling block is we need [a] real property tax freeze, real relief.”
“I hope they don’t blow this all up prematurely,” Brady said of Senate Democrats. “We’re still hopeful.”
Last week, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton opted to call some of the grand bargain bills, without Republican support, while accusing the governor’s administration of not knowing how to govern.
On Tuesday, the Senate moved several “grand bargain” bills into position to see movement on the Senate floor on Wednesday. Those measures include local government consolidation, procurement reform, the second half of a spending plan for the fiscal year 2017 and gaming.
Cullerton spokesman John Patterson warned of the ticking clock, and said the Senate president believes it’s time to act on reforms and a balanced budget.