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Rauner pits Chicago against downstate in push for budget

Gov. Bruce Rauner, addresses a crowd of state workers and local politicians Wednesday morning June 1, 2016 at the Alton, Ill., Mental Health Center, in Alton, Ill. (John Badman/The Telegraph via AP)

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday began a two-day push for an interim budget, pitting Chicago against southern and central Illinois.

The suburban Republican told downstate audiences that city Democrats are forcing a Chicago bailout and taking tax dollars from “hard-working” people throughout the state.

The remarks at the Vienna Correctional Center in southern Illinois came a day after the spring session concluded with no budget and no immediate plan to fund education. The General Assembly failed in its last-minute attempts to pass an education funding bill to ensure schools open on time this fall and to pass an overall spending plan that had a $7 billion deficit attached.

All members of the Senate’s Democratic Black Caucus voted either no or present on the spending plan, showing discontent about how House Speaker Mike Madigan’s appropriations bill was both crafted and passed last week.

Rauner has urged Democrats to stand up against their leaders and pass two bills sponsored by Republicans, one a stopgap measure to fund government operations through November, and another to ensure schools open on time.

“The Senate and the House were competing with each other, who could spend more to bail out Chicago with your tax dollars from southern Illinois and central Illinois and Moline and Rockford and Danville — the communities of this state who are hard-working families who pay their taxes. The taxes should go into our communities, not into the Chicago political machine. That’s where Speaker [Mike] Madigan and his allies want the money to go. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to change this direction,” Rauner said Wednesday.

During his visit to the state prison — one of five stops planned on Wednesday — Rauner blamed Madigan and the Democrats for everything from “the highest deficits,” debt, unfunded pension liabilities, lack of school funding and the state’s unemployment rate. He echoed the same sentiment Tuesday, hours before the deadline, as he stood in front of the Capitol steps and called the spring session a “stunning failure.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown on Wednesday called the governor’s comments about the speaker “mumbo jumbo.”

“It’s the same mumbo jumbo we’ve heard for the last year and a half,” Brown said. “It hasn’t persuaded anybody to come around to his way of thinking. So I’m not sure if that’s really helpful.”

Brown said the speaker is working on scheduling meetings for the bipartisan working groups of legislators tasked with the budget and reforms. Madigan on Monday announced the House would be in continuous session every Wednesday for the rest of June.

On Wednesday, Rauner said that’s not good enough.

“I don’t think that’s enough,” the governor said at a news conference in Mahomet in central Illinois. “So I’m going to negotiate with the speaker and ask that we meet far more regularly than that. And then we’ll see what we can work out. This should not be dragged on.”

On Tuesday, both Madigan and Cullerton said they’d support a six-month spending plan but that they’d want details to be further negotiated with the budget working groups.

“They would get to work today and they’ll work very assiduously until we get to a resolution,” Madigan said after a Tuesday morning leaders meeting with Rauner.

Cullerton spokesman John Patterson on Wednesday said the Senate President is “focused on working toward a practical, reasonable compromise.”

On Tuesday, just an hour before the budget deadline, Cullerton said he felt optimistic that the leaders could come to an agreement with Rauner about a temporary budget within a week.

Cullerton’s staff met on Wednesday to discuss the next steps, while members on the working groups are “on notice” and “remain committed to working toward a practical compromise,” Patterson said.

“As the dust settles, we are all looking to the governor for leadership on how he wants to proceed. The Senate President would like to see this deal struck quickly, as the governor’s proposal envisions, so we can build from it and restore needed stability to our state, students, parents, taxpayers, businesses and everyone else victimized by this impasse,” Patterson said.