Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday called Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s motion to halt state employee pay without a budget a “bold move” that will force Gov. Bruce Rauner’s hand.
Durbin — who last year opted not to run for governor — told the Sun-Times the budget impasse, which he said has shredded a safety net and cut off care for the most disadvantaged, hasn’t been enough to create a force for compromise.
“I think what she’s saying is ‘Let’s face the reality.’ The [Illinois] Constitution says you can’t appropriate it. You can’t spend it unless it’s appropriated. And if she tests that, and it comes through, it’s going to force the hand of the governor as to whether or not that the things he’s insisting on are so important that it would create an even worse situation in our state,” Durbin said.
Madigan last week filed a motion in St. Clair County, seeking to halt employee pay if Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly can’t approve a budget by Feb. 28. The state has been without a full budget since July 2015. Rauner and the attorney general’s father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, have been at odds over the governor’s preferred reforms since he took office. But the Illinois Senate has a “grand bargain” package of bills it hopes to pass as soon as next week. And Speaker Madigan himself has said he’ll support “aggressive economic reforms” to help the state.
Durbin last year was a strong critic of Rauner’s leadership — leading some to believe he’d try to run against him. But the longtime senator in November was re-elected to the No. 2 Democratic Senate spot, saying the responsibilities of the Democratic caucus grew when Donald Trump won the presidential election.
Still, Durbin — who lives in Springfield when he’s not in Washington, D.C., — is paying attention to the Democratic hopefuls for governor. He said he’s talked to a “field of six” potential candidates who are testing whether or not to run.
Among those in the mix are J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, State Sen. Andy Manar, State Sen. Daniel Biss and Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar. Pawar has already announced he’ll run. And Pritzker has already started a gubernatorial “listening tour” throughout the state.
“We have got to move into a new generation of leadership on the Democratic side. And I hope that some of these people will stick with it. They’re extremely talented, energetic, and I’m sure can run this state a lot better than the current governor,” Durbin said.
Durbin said Rauner has upped the ante with the $50 million he contributed to his campaign last year, and the millions more he is likely to raise and contribute.
“It’ll make an initial difference, but it has diminishing returns. By the time of the election, Labor Day and beyond, people are fed up with all the advertising and there’s a backlash. So the wealthiest among us pay the price for spending too much money. And I think Bruce Rauner is about to test those waters,” Durbin said.
Durbin said negative TV ads and mailers don’t always work: “You can be guilty of wretched excessiveness and $50 million as a down payment is kind of a guarantee that’s where he’s headed.”
Republicans shrugged off Durbin’s remarks.
“It’s no surprise that Dick Durbin is spinning like a career politician,” state Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said in an email. “Durbin knows ridiculous political attacks by Mike Madigan and the money men who fund his machine don’t work, but exposing the failure of Madigan’s decades of rule in Springfield does. Dick Durbin is unwilling and afraid to stand up to Mike Madigan. It’s why Durbin chose not to run.”