Rauner's plan to cut suburbs' tax share doesn't get a single vote
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Democrats agreed to give some of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's priority reforms a platform Wednesday but still voted them down in an exercise that could further fuel a politically charged standoff extending into the summer.
After months of heated protests by suburban mayors, the Illinois Senate took just minutes to reject cutting communities' share of state income taxes in half. Rauner proposed cutting mayors' cash in February as a way to help balance the state's troubled budget.
Democrats called the idea for a vote with little notice, and not a single lawmaker voted for it. It could always re-emerge. Later, a Senate committee started hearing testimony about Rauner's plan to freeze property taxes. The House has already rejected one, but it could come back up, too.
And it voted along party lines to reject Rauner's proposed changes to workers' compensation laws, and other committees were expected to do the same with a proposed property tax freeze and changes to the state's civil justice system. The votes came the day after the House passed a large chunk of bills comprising a $36.3 billion budget, backed by Democrats, which would spend more than $3 million above what the state is expected to take in revenue this year.
The governor, a wealthy private equity investor, has declined to negotiate on the budget until the legislature passes pro-business reforms he says are central to growing the state's economy.
Democrats, meanwhile, say that the budget should be the focus of the remaining days of session. While the House has so far declined to take up the bills reflecting a scaled-back version of Rauner's "turnaround agenda", Senate Democrats took up a different tactic Wednesday, debating Rauner's bills at length before voting them down.
"The governor made a proposal. It clearly did not have the support to advance, nor did I expect that it would. But it was important for both sides to make their arguments," said Don Harmon, a top Senate Democrat. Harmon called the governor's pro-business reforms "clearly a distraction from the task at hand to pass a responsible budget. The so-called negotiations were designed from the get-go to try to make Democrats wear the jacket for the governor's immature handling of these items."
The votes will serve as additional fodder for Rauner, who already has been ripping Democrats for being unwilling to make the changes he says are needed to improve Illinois' economy.
Even before the votes, the Rauner administration was criticizing Democrats for a failure to compromise.
"Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls are walking away from the negotiating table and refusing to compromise on critical reforms needed," press secretary Lance Trover wrote in a 5:30 a.m. email blast. "Instead, they appear ready to end the regular session with yet another broken budget or massive tax hike -and no structural reforms."
Trover also suggested that Democrats were maneuvering to block changes to reform state hiring to allay Democrats' or unions' concerns.
The Senate Wednesday also moved to begin passing a chunk of the roughly 20 budget bills that have been filed so far. The chamber's action follows the House's passage of a number of bills Monday. They've acknowledged the plan will eventually spend about $3 billion more than the state is expected to take in next year.
A handful of suburban Democrats broke with their party to vote against at least parts of the plan, including state Sens. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park, Daniel Biss of Evanston, Melinda Bush of Grayslake, Julie Morrison of Deerfield and Mike Noland of Elgin.
Meanwhile, money for Illinois' public schools would increase by roughly $240 million next year under a proposal approved by the House. Top Democrats also said $60 million of the proposed funding would infuse low-income schools with extra cash.
Cullerton and Noland are running for Congress. Bush and Morrison could face competitive re-election bids.
The leadership also put up a series of bills representing billions of dollars in budget cuts they said represent Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget plans and watched each go down to defeat.
"The House has been a land of stunts and games," GOP state Sen. Matt Murphy, of Palatine. said. "It's unfortunate to see the majority in this chamber join them."
Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this story.