News Local/State

‘A Sense Of Urgency Is Palpable’ As State Budget Clock Ticks

Michael Madigan walking into the governors office.

House Speaker Michael Madigan heads into Governor Bruce Rauner's office for a meeting with legislative leaders. Amanda Vinicky/Illinois Public Radio

On Wednesday, tempers at the capitol flared; but Thursday the legislature's top Republicans shifted toward an optimistic stance on the budget situation.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's relentless push for a reduction in unions' power and Democrats' sustained refusal to go along has Illinois set to round out an eleventh month without a budget.

It's under this backdrop that Rauner and lawmakers are tasked with also crafting a budget for the next fiscal year.

Indications early this week were that it wasn't going well.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said following a meeting with Rauner on Wednesday that the governor and his "agents" were "unpersuasive" in making the case for Rauner's agenda before small "working" groups of legislators tasked with dissecting, and potentially reaching a compromise on, its planks.

Democrats in the Illinois House advanced a spending plan -- twice -- against vehement protests from Republicans that it's out of balance. Republicans were furious Wednesday night about a procedural slight, and Rauner's surrogates were quick to make known that he'll reject the nearly $40 billion plan.

But Thursday, House Democrats re-ran the budget in an apparent attempt to sooth tensions (though it had the same outcome, of passing without any Republican support.  Whether that will become the legislature's final spending plan is unclear.  The measure calls for mostly flat spending, but gives education a big increase. That's not enough for some Democrats in the Senate, who want  to fundamentally change how schools are funded).

Also Thursday, the four legislative leaders again met with Rauner.

In stark contrast to their remarks after Wednesday's meeting, this time the Republicans came out sounding serious, but upbeat.

"The Democratic leaders now share our sense of urgency of bringing this impasse to a close and we are going to ramp up with our working groups, which is a positive sign to me," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno followed up to say  "they have re-engaged in the working groups; a sense of urgency is palpable. And hopefully that will propel us towards a solution before the end of session."

With only days left to do it, partisan disputes, a crushing state deficit, and an election ahead, that's a big load to carry.

To wit, the House Republicans' political arm was quick to pounce; it's paying for automated phone calls to constituents of Democratic representatives who voted for Madigan's budget.  The calls accuse the legislators of refusing to stand up to Madigan, and forcing "record high income tax rates."

Madigan left Thursday's meeting without comment, as did Senate President John Cullerton.