Will anything get done in Springfield this election year?

  • Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders have a number of issues to work out in the coming months -- but will they actually work them out?

    Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders have a number of issues to work out in the coming months -- but will they actually work them out? Associated Press, jan. 9, 2015

 
 
Updated 1/1/2016 7:49 AM

Without a budget agreement in place from last year, Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers have a lot to do in this new year.

But now it's an election year, a time when productivity in Springfield isn't at its highest as lawmakers prepare for elections and often avoid more controversial proposals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Experts say this election year is clearly different, but the result is unpredictable.

Will the looming election apply the pressure to solve the long budget stalemate? Or will the interest in avoiding controversy drag things out a little longer? "What's happening now, there is no precedent," Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green said. "Anyone who says they know what's going to happen is just puffing," Green said.

The state has operated with only a portion of a spending plan in place since July 1, leaving court orders and federal decrees to distribute a lot of its money at levels some argue Illinois can't afford.

Incumbents in the suburbs don't face primary battles in March, but lawmakers are set to meet fewer than 10 times before April.

"Usually they kind of slow down," said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. "This isn't a normal year, though."

Plus, Mooney says, voters -- and campaign opponents -- won't just forget what happened in 2015 or earlier when running their races. So the calendar turning to an election year might turn out to be a small factor.

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Approving a budget deal wouldn't take many days. Top lawmakers and Rauner have been meeting more regularly, and if they were to strike a spending deal, it could be voted on in a day or two.

It's coming to that deal that has eluded Republicans and Democrats throughout 2016. And Green says letting the stalemate continue might be seen as less politically problematic than solving it.

After all, a tax hike or budget cuts that could come with a new spending plan might be felt by more voters than the pain being caused to Illinoisans who aren't getting paid at the moment. With an election at the end of the year, that could inform the debate.

"If you have a budget, someone is going to be hurt." Green said. "Whoever blinks, whoever's weak, the blame goes to that person."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Lots of groups have argued they're being hurt now.

A St. Charles business owner faces foreclosure proceedings later this month, for instance, because a state account isn't paying his company to pull old gasoline tanks out of the ground. And local nonprofits that help mental health patients say they may have to cut programs soon.

Universities and colleges, among the biggest groups still not getting paid by court orders, have warned about serious consequences of a year without a budget. They start their spring semesters soon.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, this week called on Rauner to haul lawmakers back to Springfield to meet in special session in the new year in an effort to force a deal. In doing so, Franks took a dig at Rauner's holiday vacation and his staff's unwillingness to reveal where the governor was.

"Unfortunately, right now, we don't even know where the governor is," Franks said. "I, however, know where we need to be."

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly shot back, saying having lawmakers in Springfield will only cost the state more money.

"Jack Franks knows that a special session would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars every day," Kelly said.

The Illinois House and Senate are set to return to the Capitol Jan. 13.

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