News Local/State

Illinois Senate Leader To House: You Don’t Need Governor To Make Budget Deal

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, speaks to reporters in May, during efforts to achieve a "grand bargain" budget agreement. Senate Democrats eventually passed a budget without GOP support.. Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Democratic-controlled Illinois Legislature "doesn't need the governor" to enact an elusive budget deal to end a two-year impasse, Senate president John Cullerton said Friday ahead of a special session.

Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, told The Associated Press that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's call for lawmakers to return to Springfield for the rest of the month is ill-advised. But if attendance is required, he said, House Republicans should pitch in to provide support for the $37 billion spending plan aimed at ending the longest of any state since at least the Great Depression.

"It's time to call it, and if they want to make some modifications, fine," Cullerton said.

He suggested House Republican Leader Jim Durkin doesn't need to worry about currying favor with Rauner now because the rules for passing a budget in the overtime session require a three-fifths supermajority. If there is such a vote, which would require GOP support, it would be able to override a gubernatorial veto anyway.

In May, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly adjourned its spring session without reaching an annual budget deal with Rauner for the third straight year. When the fiscal year ends June 30, the state will have a $6.2 billion deficit and a pile of past-due bills topping $15 billion. Because of court-ordered spending, government operations continue at a pace in which spending outstrips revenue by $7 billion a year.

Cullerton has waged a campaign to publicize the budget plan the Senate approved after negotiating with Republicans, even though none ultimately voted for it. That plan's $37.3 billion bottom line, the same total Rauner proposed in February, combines $5.4 billion in tax increases with $3 billion in spending cuts sought by Republicans.

In separate legislation, Cullerton maintains the Senate approved major "structural" changes Rauner has demanded, from revamping the hugely underfunded pension systems to a two-year freeze on local property taxes.

"Just exactly what else are we supposed to do?" asked a frustrated Cullerton.

For a budget to take effect July 1, it would take 71 votes in the House. There are only 66 Democrats in the chamber.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Chicago Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, noted that a private meeting of House Democrats just before the May 31 adjournment revealed a lack of support for the Senate plan.

"I've never really expected, based on the rhetoric, any Republican" votes on the plan, Brown said

But Cullerton says the time is ripe for Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, to persuade his caucus to buck the governor.

"Leader Durkin has to understand: He doesn't even need the governor now," Cullerton said. "You need a three-fifths vote to pass a bill, and a three-fifths vote to override a veto. So he and the speaker themselves can work out an agreement. ... We've already heard some Republican state reps say that they're willing to vote for a tax increase, enough's enough."

Durkin sounded agreeable in a statement his spokeswoman released Friday.

"I agree with President Cullerton that we can approve a budget and reforms," Durkin said. "That is the purpose of the special session."

A spokeswoman for Rauner did not respond to a request for comment.