Showdown or stare-down? Rauner, Madigan to meet on budget

Tuesday could be a key moment in determining whether Illinois' leaders can agree on a full budget plan in 2015, a few weeks before it becomes a full six months late.

Or, the political staring contest over state spending could continue.

The summit among Gov. Bruce Rauner and top lawmakers Tuesday comes with widespread hype because such meetings have been rare during the standoff — this one sparked weeks ago by a frustrated letter from a few good government groups.

Rauner argues lawmakers should approve a menu of pro-business laws in order to improve the state economy, such as a property tax freeze. House Speaker Michael Madigan has insisted those ideas shouldn't be tied to a state budget. Each side blames the other for the impasse.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he'll look for evidence Tuesday that Madigan is willing to move off his position, agree to consider more of Rauner's proposals and begin clearing a path toward a deal.

“I think there is a pent-up desire around the state for Illinois to get better,” Murphy said.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said he's not convinced the meeting, with all its hype, will lead to any true results. He said he hopes the result is more meetings.

“This should be the first of many,” Link said.

At stake: Opening the plugged flow of money to everyone from lottery winners to domestic violence shelter organizers who have had to get by without the state funds on which they depend. And maybe limiting spending on programs still being paid because of court orders, as Illinois continues to add to its deficit.

Initially billed as public, the Springfield meeting is set to start with public statements before the group heads behind closed doors to talk further.

Link agrees with that approach, saying negotiators have to be allowed to get angry at each other — then make up — without having to play to a bank of cameras.

“You've got to be able to speak freely,” he said.

Both sides say they've made concessions, but there's been no public evidence of movement toward a final deal.

The meeting was delayed once because of a family funeral Madigan attended. So far, this one is on track, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.

She said Rauner “hopes to advance discussions about how the state can enact much-needed structural reforms to grow jobs and free up resources to maximize value for taxpayers while producing a balanced budget.”

Tuesday's meeting comes as the deadline for candidates to file for office, including seats in the conflict-ridden Statehouse, is Monday. And on Wednesday, the Illinois House is set to meet.

The last time it did, Republicans and Democrats joined to approve legislation that would send gasoline and gambling tax money to mayors, as well as free up lottery winners' cash.

But Democrats put a block on it, preventing the plan from moving ahead. That could be lifted this week.

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