For months, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has toured the state trying to sell his “Turnaround Agenda,” largely centered on a push for right-to-work zones in Illinois.
Now Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan is essentially telling Rauner to put up or shut up on the anti-union plan.
Madigan, D-Chicago, announced Thursday that he scheduled a vote for May 14 on whether Illinois should adopt right-to-work laws and invited the Republican governor to provide specific language for his legislation.
It was the second shot across the bow from Madigan this week, targeted at neutralizing issues Rauner has pushed lawmakers to approve as part of budget negotiations.
One Republican accused Madigan of trying to cause “chaos” by singling out the issue.
In a statement released on Thursday, Madigan’s office said it urged the governor to “file formal legislative language for his measure,” then needled Rauner for beginning to talk about right-to-work “100 days ago” but offering up no specifics to lawmakers.
As part of his tour, Rauner has urged local municipalities to adopt right-to-work laws for their own communities, which take aim at the power of unions. In those zones, workers can opt against joining unions or paying union dues as a condition of employment.
During his $60 million election for governor, Rauner repeatedly decried Illinois unions as corrupt and castigated lawmakers as contributing to the state’s economic “death spiral.” Rauner urged for local adoption of right to work in the face of the improbability of it passing statewide.
Putting the explosive issue to a vote creates a dicey political choice for Republican lawmakers who want to support their governor — particularly those who have union-heavy constituencies.
“With 24 scheduled days left in the Legislature’s spring session, Madigan encouraged the governor to introduce legislative language for the plan he has campaigned for at stops across the state,” the statement from the speaker’s office stated.
“The governor’s proposal will have a significant impact on middle-class families across Illinois,” Madigan said in a statement. “By putting the governor’s proposal to a vote, legislators will have the opportunity to ensure the voices of the middle-class families in their districts are heard.”
Rauner’s office characterized Madigan’s move as walking away from closed-door negotiations that members of the administration have engaged in with lawmakers in various working groups.
“The administration continues to negotiate in good faith over the governor’s turnaround agenda and will remain at the table as long as it takes,” a governor’s office spokesman said in a statement. “If House Democrats want to walk away from the negotiating table and vote on a proposal before there is bipartisan agreement that the material is ready to be introduced in committee, then they should start with a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on legislators.”
Madigan used a similar tactic by calling Rauner’s proposed $2 billion in human services budget cuts for a vote this week. With House Republicans saying they were caught off guard, they voted “present” and Democrats voted “no.” The ultimate tally for Rauner’s budget cut proposal: zero “yes” votes.
State Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, said Madigan’s move would only disrupt any chance of bipartisan progress on the budget. Sullivan said Republicans haven’t drawn up specific legislation because Democrats would only turn around and kill it.
“Gov. Rauner is trying to negotiate things in totality,” Sullivan said. “Speaker Madigan doesn’t want any part of it, so he’s trying to bring out the heater points. Cause chaos.”
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Democrats would continue to attend working group sessions. But with the end of the session looming, Madigan believed it was appropriate to address Rauner’s premier issue.
“The governor has spoken about this topic for as long as he’s been in the seat,” Brown said. “They believe that these things have to be accomplished right now. There’s only one way to gauge if this is possible or not. A meeting, a PowerPoint, those things don’t accomplish anything under state law.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said he would urge his members to keep hammering away at a budget compromise.
“I currently have many working groups that are negotiating a number of agenda items for the governor and [right to work] happens to be one of them,” Durkin said. “I believe that the groups should continue on with the work and hopefully reach some kind of consensus on this issue and a number of the other issues that are being discussed by these working groups. Again, this session is about bipartisan cooperation, working together — active participation by Democrats and Republicans.”
Still, state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, welcomed a vote on the issue, saying that given all the rhetoric about right to work, it might be good to put the issue behind lawmakers and focus on the budget.