Clash between Madigan, Rauner puts budget compromise in doubt
Illinois appears to be moving closer to missing a key budget deadline for a second straight year after a significant clash between top Democrats and Republicans Friday signaled compromise could be tough.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan emerged from a brief meeting with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and other leaders Friday to say the governor "continues to fail to persuade" rank and file lawmakers to agree to his agenda.
And Republicans emerged from the same meeting saying Democrats are trying to push some of the discussion off until after the November election.
"Today, the Democrat leaders essentially pulled the plug on negotiations," Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said.
Madigan touted the budget plan Democrats finished approving this week that adds money for schools and pays for social service programs but was criticized by the GOP as being $7 billion out of balance.
"We're not going to hold hostage people who need education," Madigan said.
Lawmakers face a deadline Tuesday to cut a budget deal. After that, a budget takes more votes for approval, making the task of agreeing to a budget that has eluded them for a year even more difficult.
Democratic Senate President John Cullerton proposed adopting a shorter-term spending plan to keep schools and universities open as the stalemate continues, but Rauner's budget director Tim Nuding pushed back against that idea.
Court decisions and federal decrees have kept much of the state functioning over the last year despite the conflict at the Capitol. Nuding said going another year would be harder as social services continue to suffer and the state can't even pay its power bills at state parks, prisons and even the Capitol.
"Can we do it?" Nuding said of a second year without a spending plan. "I don't know the answer to that."
While House Democrats approved a budget this week, Rauner has all but threatened to veto it.
Rank-and-file lawmakers continue to work on budget plans and on the policy goals Rauner has asked for, like a property tax freeze, though the specifics of their deliberations have been a closely guarded secret.
One group drafted a plan to raise income taxes by more than a percentage point and expand sales taxes. Many lawmakers have suggested those talks are less rancorous than the public budget war would suggest, but no compromise has been made public.
"At the end of the day, not one single member can bring 60 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate," said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat in those groups. "That heavy lifting is left up to leadership."
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats passed another plan intended to send more money to less wealthy schools, but the absence of Republican support and House Democrats' vote for their own budget plan mean it's likely to stall.
Like last year, the question of whether lawmakers will approve an education budget will be at the top of their lists amid speculation some schools won't be able to open in a few months without one.
"Today, I suggested a short-term compromise to keep the schools open, our universities open and our human service providers open while we continue to negotiate a broader, balanced budget solution," Cullerton said in a statement.
Lawmakers won't meet Saturday and will return to the Capitol Sunday.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Mary Hansen contributed to this story