Madigan rejects Rauner’s approach linking business changes to budget

Speaker Madigan’s message to Rauner: Democrats passing a budget that will be short $3 billion.  It looks like it will be an interesting and long, drawn out legislative session in Springfield this summer.Rauner

House Speaker Michael Madigan returned to the Capitol on Memorial Day and delivered a message to Gov. Bruce Rauner: Democrats are going to pass a budget that’s at least $3 billion short, will keep working to find more money but reject attempts to link the Republican governor’s legislative agenda to a new spending plan.

Article by Monique Garcia and Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune  April 26,, 2016

Those comments Monday set the stage for what Rauner has pledged will be a long summer in Springfield if he doesn’t get the pro-business changes he wants that also would curb the power of labor unions. Holding a rare news conference to open the final scheduled week of spring session, Madigan said Rauner’s remarks were “not helpful to this process.”

“Democrats in the legislature, both the House and the Senate, will offer a spending plan that’s consistent with our view of what the state of Illinois should do for Illinoisans who need the government to be helpful to them,” Madigan said. “We will publicly acknowledge that we don’t have the money to pay for this budget.”

Even before Madigan had spoken, the Rauner administration blasted the approach, accusing the speaker “and the politicians he controls” of “refusing to compromise on critical reforms.”

“Instead, they appear ready to end the regular session with yet another broken budget or massive tax hike — and no structural reforms,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said. “The speaker and his allies in the legislature are sorely mistaken if they believe the people of Illinois will accept doubling down on a broken system that has failed Illinois over the last dozen years.”

Rauner is trying to leverage the annual budget-making process to elbow through key reforms of his so-called Turnaround Agenda, which would overhaul everything from regulating who unions can collect dues from to tightening compensation for workers hurt on the job to limiting big-dollar damages in lawsuits. Rauner said that if lawmakers signed off on the ideas, he’d consider raising taxes to offset the need for deeper budget cuts.

But Madigan said that is a flawed strategy, and House Democrats didn’t even wait for Rauner to introduce his proposals in bill form before rejecting them in a series of symbolic test votes the last several weeks.

“I’m not going to say that the gentleman went wrong. I’m not going to say that, all right? He has his views on what should be done in the government, and others in the legislature have different views. That’s just the way it is,” Madigan said Monday. “What he’s attempting to do is mix apples and oranges, he’s attempting to bring these nonbudget issues into budget-making, that’s where we have a completely serious difference of opinion between he and I and others in the legislature.”

Madigan said Democrats plan to spend $36.3 billion in the budget that would take effect July 1. That’s at least $3 billion more than the state can afford, Madigan said, though Republicans contend the shortfall is greater.

Still, House Democrats began advancing small portions of the budget Monday that set spending levels for higher education and public safety. They plan to spend almost $1.9 billion on universities and colleges, about $50 million less than last year. The corrections and police budget is set at $1.8 billion, a $50 million increase to cover higher payroll expenses and programs aimed at keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison.

The Senate is expected to move more pieces of the spending plan on Tuesday. Lawmakers face a Sunday deadline to put a budget in place, or the threshold to pass legislation increases and Republican lawmakers get a seat at the table.

The idea behind the Democratic budget push is to force Rauner to wear the jacket for billions in budget cuts that would hit social service programs in the hopes that he’ll feel enough heat to eventually sign on to a tax increase in the months ahead. But that’s a political gamble for Democrats: The governor could use his powers to reduce certain spending, or veto the budget outright and blame Democrats for not making the tough decisions.

That would send both sides back to the bargaining table this summer, when Rauner could tap into more than $34 million in campaign cash he and his allies control to hammer home his message and put pressure on Democrats.

“If that happens, that happens,” Madigan said. “Speaking for myself, I’m here to discharge my duty and my obligation.”

Republican lawmakers countered that Democrats were shirking their responsibilities in knowingly passing an out-of-balance budget. They question the logic that Democrats could strike a deal with Rauner on taxes after refusing to negotiate on his agenda.

“Stop the facade,” said Republican Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove as a House panel debated the public safety budget. “You’re looking to work with him after you pass this joke of a budget … this is an absolute atrocity.”

But Democratic Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago, the public safety appropriations chairman, argued there’s more to raising money than just hiking taxes, suggesting gambling might be an area ripe for compromise.

Lawmakers are weighing an expansion that would bring slot machines to horse racing tracks and create five new casinos, including one in Chicago that’s getting the heavy sell from Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Rauner has said he’s open to the idea, but hurdles remain.

Many are the usual culprits that scuttle the annual gambling push: opposition from existing casinos that argue they’ll take a hit and concerns surrounding the city’s insistence on owning its casino. But there’s also a new wrinkle this year as some horse track owners say they won’t be happy with just slot machines at their facilities, but also want table games.

“Obviously, we are getting a lot of people who want their hand in it right now. Surprise,” said Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan. “It’s a house of cards, if you pull one card out, everything goes tumbling. That’s what I’m trying to prevent.”

Tony Petrillo, general manager of Arlington International Racecourse, dismissed suggestions that the push for table games could jeopardize a larger gambling deal. He said it was a matter of providing a “level playing field” for tracks to compete and to provide much-needed revenue to the state.

Gambling expansion supporters said they remained encouraged by ongoing talks with legislative leaders and the governor’s office.

“We’re working through it, there’s still issues, but there’s still time to put it together before May 31,” said Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island. “It’s a short time, but a lot can happen.”

The intense debate surrounding the budget has largely sucked the energy out of other high-profile efforts, including legislation sought by Exelon that would require electricity users to pay about $2 more a month to help fund what the company says are several struggling nuclear plants.
Many lawmakers are wary of taking up what critics have labeled as a corporate bailout at a time when the state is struggling to pay for basic services. The issue is further complicated by a competing proposal to expand the use of renewable energy sources.

Also unlikely to pass before month’s end is a plan backed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to overhaul government worker pensions.

The proposal would cut benefits and raise retirement ages but also guarantee health care benefits for workers when they retire. It calls for the county to put almost $147 million more a year into the pension fund, though Preckwinkle continues to be publicly vague about how she’ll fund that increase.

Advocates argue it’s structured in such a way to get around a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling that struck down broader changes to the state’s pension system, but support isn’t there from Republicans who say a property tax hike likely would be required and some Democrats who don’t like that some powerful employee unions are opposed.

“At this point in the session, as with any of the pension bills, it’s a difficult proposal to get passed,” said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, a key pension negotiator.

mcgarcia@tribpub.com   kgeiger@tribpub.com  Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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