With state finances 'completely uncertain,' what will Rauner do?

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner talks about his top priorities. The next move in an uncertain budget battle could be his.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner talks about his top priorities. The next move in an uncertain budget battle could be his. Mike Riopell | Staff Photographer

Updated 5/31/2015 6:33 PM

The battles of the spring that left suburban day cares, parents of autistic children and even court reporters desperate for answers about what the state would fund and what it wouldn't are set to continue.

Lawmakers were set to leave Springfield Sunday afternoon after Democrats in recent days sent Gov. Bruce Rauner a spending plan that is $3 billion short on cash.


The first-term Republican governor has said little about what he plans to do next, calling the year's annual legislative session "stunningly disappointing."

Suburban teachers, mayors, caretakers for the disabled, casino regulators -- anyone who relies on state money -- can now only watch as Rauner figures out whether he can still cut a deal with lawmakers to fill the budget hole or slash spending to make the ledger balance.

"It's completely uncertain," said state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. "We don't have a budget right now."

The fight likely is to be one among Rauner and legislative leaders, but suburban lawmakers are likely to feel a lot of the pressure.

Rauner is said to have prepared a multimillion dollar advertising blitz to pressure lawmakers he might hope are skittish enough about their re-election chances to spur their leaders to cut a deal, particularly to give the governor some political wins on the agenda he's been pushing for months.

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The suburbs could be ground zero for that battle because the most independent voters are there. The competitive legislative districts are there. The Democrats who support some of Rauner's top priorities -- like cutting property taxes -- are there, too.

"I anticipate that there will be a lot of TV ads and mailers going to especially districts that tend to either swing between Republican or Democrats or are more moderate," state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, said. "Those will certainly be the targets that the governor will focus on."

Democrats started the mail barrage weeks ago, hitting mailboxes in some Republicans lawmakers' districts when they voted "present" on a plan to freeze property taxes that the GOP called a cynical political trick.

A new advertising push could give local voters déjà vu as they're less than a year removed from the most expensive race for governor in Illinois history, a bitter affair that helped set the tone for a 2015 regular legislative session that has ended in gridlock over state finances.


Rauner echoed the themes of that campaign late Sunday, as it was clear talks with Democrats had imploded.

"They are not about the middle class," Rauner said of Democratic leaders. "They are about the political class in Illinois."

The state's next budget year starts July 1, so that day becomes the next pressure point for negotiators.

Rauner has options once Democrats send him the budget they've approved. He could sign it into law and manage the $3 billion budget deficit himself. He could cut spending and send it back to them. Or he could veto it entirely.

Or, the governor and lawmakers could trade raising taxes for some of Rauner's priorities before July 1, adding money into the budget.

"If the governor doesn't support our goal to invest in education, job training and programs for people with developmental disabilities, that may present some difficulties for his agencies," said state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat.

In the meantime, he has hundreds of other pieces of legislation on his desk he'll have to make decisions about, from a sweeping plan to combat heroin abuse that could cost up to $58 million to a plan to make pumpkin Illinois' official state pie.

Meanwhile, the Illinois House is set to return to Springfield Thursday, and House Speaker Michael Madigan said lawmakers won't be reimbursed for mileage or be given their typical per diem payments over the summer, even as their constituents could be watching harsh TV ads about them back home.

"I think everyone in this process has the potential to get real uncomfortable because the job hasn't been done," Murphy said.

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