SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn laid out an ambitious platform for his 2014 re-election bid earlier this year, calling for a minimum-wage increase, an extension of the 2011 temporary income tax hike and $500 property-tax rebates for homeowners.
Admittedly, the governor did walk away from the spring session with a $1.1 billion road-and-bridge construction plan that passed in the wee hours Saturday and that will provide plenty of opportunities for summer ribbon cuttings. He also lobbied successfully for legislation to combat state grant fraud and to give pregnant workers more rights in the workplace.
But one by one, some of his most-prized initiatives fell by the legislative roadside, plowed down by seemingly complacent Democratic supermajorities that have controlled the House and Senate since last year but couldn’t deliver for Quinn when it may have mattered most.
On the minimum wage, Quinn’s consolation prize came in the form of an advisory referendum, seeking voter input on the Nov. 4 ballot about whether Illinois should raise its $8.25-an-hour minimum wage to $10 an hour — a far cry from actually giving an immediate boost to the state’s lowest-paid workers.
Since taking office, Quinn has had his share of clashes with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, particularly as the governor grew frustrated by their slow crawl toward finally cutting a pension-reform deal last year.
The governor zeroed out their legislative pay in a fit of pique last year because of inaction on pensions, only to be taken to court by the two Democratic leaders, who later prevailed in that legal fight.
Quinn also drew the wrath of the Democratic leaders, particularly within the speaker’s office, by blocking expensive renovations at the state Capitol. The governor was offended last September by the lavishness of a $50 million historically-accurate Statehouse makeover that included copper-plated doors that cost nearly $700,000 at a time the state remained billions of dollars behind in paying its bills.
And more recently, relations between Madigan and Quinn grew more strained, with the House speaker giving the governor a cold shoulder for a chunk of the spring session in apparent retribution for putting former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on a transit-reform panel that pilloried Madigan for years of patronage at Metra.
Whether the governor’s overreaches from the spring carry any political toll is something voters will have to mull over as the gubernatorial campaign against Republican Bruce Rauner begins to crank up now that lawmakers have finished their work in Springfield.
Madigan, for his part, minimized the governor’s troubles at getting his agenda passed and at the idea friction between the two played any role.
“I think it’s fine,” Madigan said when asked late Friday to assess his relationship with the governor. “We’re both Democrats, and we’ll be working for Democrats in the general [election].
“This was a successful session,” the speaker continued. “The governor didn’t get everything he wanted, but that’s the nature of the Legislature. That’s the nature of American government. But going forward, the Democrats will be together because they’ll be brought together by Republicans.”
The ink wasn’t dry on Friday’s budget roll calls before Rauner took a swipe at Quinn, using the budget that Madigan and Cullerton cobbled together without the tax extension as an emblem of the governor’s spring-time inefficiencies.
“This phony budget is an unsurprising, yet tragic, conclusion to five years of failure under Pat Quinn,” Rauner said.
The governor, who issued a statement expressing disappointment at the budget sent to him, stayed out of public view Friday. Early Saturday morning, he proclaimed the legislative session a success, noting the construction package, a handful of other initiatives that didn’t start out the spring as marquee issues and job gains.
“With unemployment today at its lowest point since 2008, Illinois is making an economic comeback,” Quinn said. “This legislative session we accomplished several important bills that will strengthen that comeback by building and protecting the middle class, while benefitting working families.”
Cullerton defended Quinn and rejected any notion that the spring had more failures than successes for the spring.
“Just the opposite,” Cullerton told reporters when asked if the setbacks demonstrated failed leadership on the governor’s part. “How about the fact he didn’t wait until after the election and pretend we can just get by? He came out and forcefully and said this is what we should do. He’s responsible in asking for the extension and laid out the budget he’d prefer if we had the money. I thought that was very important.”
Cullerton ridiculed any criticism directed Quinn’s way by Rauner, who has resisted for months in putting out any specifics ou his own budget outline.
“Everything was tied in to the tax extension. He forcefully and boldly asked for it,” Cullerton said of Quinn. “He didn’t hide behind what we’re getting from Rauner, it’s like, you guys might remember, some of the older folks here, Richard Nixon: ‘I have a secret plan to get out of Vietnam after the election.’
And on the minimum-wage increase, which didn’t receive a House floor vote, Cullerton said, “The governor doesn’t have a vote in the General Assembly, and the House didn’t have enough votes to pass the bill. I don’t think you can blame the governor.”