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Brown: Rare and refreshing—Democrat, Republican working together

Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board to talk about state budget solutions Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

I can’t remember the last time a Democratic and a Republican legislative leader walked together through the doors of the Chicago Sun-Times, or any newspaper, to jointly ask for the paper’s support on a major issue.

Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Leader Christine Radogno paid such a visit to the Sun-Times Editorial Board Thursday afternoon.

It was refreshing.


Cullerton and Radogno, as you might have read, have been working together to bring an end to Illinois’ two-year old budget impasse.

They’ve cobbled together a far-reaching package of legislative measures in an effort to reach a compromise.

RELATED: Senate leaders push budget plan, won’t cap income tax hike

There are 13 pieces of legislation in all, containing everything from an income tax increase to a temporary property tax freeze to a new school funding formula and massive gambling expansion that includes a Chicago casino.

Any one of these bills would be a heavy lift in normal times, but the Senate leaders have tied them all together so that if one measure fails, the whole package fails.

It’s a rare, maybe unprecedented, tactic, with actual language in the individual bills tying the fate of each to the others. Neither Cullerton nor Radogno could recall trying this approach on so large a scale.

The idea is that everybody gives something, and everybody gets something, a true compromise. But it’s also a lot of moving parts, making it that much easier for somebody to gum up the works, which is why they are seeking support.

Some people are already saying the individual pieces of legislation don’t go far enough to fix the problems in Illinois government. Others say they go too far.

Cullerton and Radogno aren’t in love with everything they are putting forward either, but in their presentation to the Sun-Times, they swallowed their differences to present a united front and side-stepped opportunities for laying blame.

That was refreshing, too.

The compromise only involves the Senate, and even that is tenuous, as individual senators come under pressure to vote against portions of the deal.

The Senate leaders say they have consulted neither Gov. Bruce Rauner nor House Speaker Michael Madigan in shaping their agreement.

“The goal here is to show that we’re not working with the governor or against the governor. We’re not working with the House or against the House,” is how Cullerton explained it Thursday.

That might prove the undoing of the Senate plan, or it might outmaneuver the more powerful duo who have been front and center in the political standoff since Rauner’s election in 2014.

Democrats are coming under fire for proposals that would cut the costs of public pensions and make the workers compensation system less costly to employers.

Republicans will have trouble supporting the income tax increase in particular. The proposal would take the individual income tax rate back up to 4.95 percent, just short of the temporary 5 percent rate that the Legislature allowed to lapse after Rauner made it a political hot potato and Democrats chickened out.

Cullerton and Radogno, who promised to cast their own vote for each of the 13 bills, say they plan to pass the legislation through the Senate next week, and then hope the House will be forced to engage in compromise of its own.

It’s very difficult to force Madigan’s hand, but in the interest of self-preservation for his members — and retaining the House leadership he covets above all else — it’s possible the Senate moves will motivate him to find common ground as well.

The possibility that voters will blame them all — and hold them accountable in 2018 — is part of what moved both Democrat and Republican senators to insist that their leaders look harder for bipartisan solutions.

Blessed are the peacemakers, even in Illinois politics.