Rauner halts grand bargain in Senate

Patrick Yeagle
Gov. Bruce Rauner at his inauguration in January 2015. Photo by Patrick Yeagle

By Monica Stabile

 Gov. Bruce Rauner intervened in the Illinois Senate on Wednesday to stop a “grand bargain” on the state budget, prompting frustration among Senate President John Cullerton, his fellow Democratic senators and even Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

Without Republican support for the grand bargain, chances of the package passing the Illinois Senate are diminished, resulting in Illinois continuing to operate without a state budget. Senate Democrats and Republicans have been working together on the grand bargain with the goal of reaching a deal with Rauner on a state budget.

The grand bargain is a package of legislation introduced in the Senate, ranging from education funding reform to changes in state employee pensions that incorporate items from Rauner’s Reform Agenda. Rauner has refused to approve a budget until changes from his agenda are implemented. Every piece of legislation in the grand bargain is tied together, meaning if one bill fails to pass, the entire package fails.

Cullerton and Radogno have been the main drivers of the grand bargain after negotiations to solve the state’s fiscal crisis with Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, fell apart late last year.

The Senate passed a handful of bills in the grand bargain on Tuesday, but if the chamber had voted on the remaining legislation Wednesday, there would have been no Republican support other than Radogno, Cullerton said during a press conference.

“This (grand bargain) was always designed to be a bipartisan effort,” Cullerton said. “Many of these tough bills require support from both parties.”

Radogno, a Republican from Lemont, said that the grand bargain process had been “one of the most frustrating but rewarding experiences in my 20 years” of being an elected official. She expressed confidence in reaching a final deal.

“We will bring this thing in for a landing,” Radogno said.

Catherine Kelly, Rauner’s spokesperson, issued a short statement Wednesday.

“We appreciate the hard work of the Senate in trying to pass a bipartisan agreement that can become law,” Kelly said. “Some progress has been made, but more work is needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers.”

Cullerton accused Rauner of influencing Republicans to oppose legislation in the grand bargain. Senate Republicans deny Rauner had “threatened” them to change their votes, instead saying they disagreed with the current form of legislation and wanted to continue working with Senate Democrats.

“The package was not complete and we needed more time to digest and define what we need,” said Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.

Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a Republican from St. Charles, said she and Rauner had talked “extensively” Wednesday morning and said the governor was “very engaged and very supportive” in their conversation.

“In my district, many of the communities are in some of the highest property-tax communities in the entire country,” McConnaughay said, referring to Rauner’s demand for a permanent property tax freeze if the General Assembly approves an income tax increase. “If we’re going to increase taxes in one regard, we have to find relief elsewhere.”

The tax increase legislation, Senate Bill 13, proposes a temporary two-year property tax freeze with the option of  extending the freeze for an additional three years that must be passed by referendum. Opponents say school districts, which rely heavily on funding from local property taxes, will suffer.

“One of the reasons why property taxes are as high as they are is because 60 to 70 percent of your property tax bill goes to school funding,” said Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights. “Because the state doesn’t take care of its responsibilities in terms of school funding, then we are left with the situation that the burden falls on our local property taxpayers.”

Senators have passed five pieces of legislation that are a part of the grand bargain: consolidating local governments, funding for Chicago teachers’ pensions, appropriations for a six-month budget, gaming expansion and procurement changes.

Legislation that has yet to be voted on includes education funding, bonds to pay state vendors, tax increases, the ability for municipalities to sell or transfer their state revenues, workers’ compensation and the property tax freeze. Changes to state employee pensions failed to pass the Senate on Tuesday.

Illinois has been running without a budget since July 2015.

“We owe 12 billion dollars; on election day two years from now, we’ll owe 24 billion dollars,” Cullerton said.

Illinois’ bond rating might be downgraded to junk status as a result of the Senate not calling the bills for a vote on Wednesday, he added.

“This has got to end,” Cullerton said. “It’s gotten to the point where the lack of a budget is really the problem that needs to be solved.”

For more information about the legislation in the grand bargain, read here.

Contact Monica Stabile at [email protected].


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