The Illinois Senate’s “grand bargain” is on life support and senators are taking what one insider described as a “cooling off” period after Democrats last week accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of blowing up their bipartisan deal to finally get Illinois a budget.
Now, Rauner says top Democrats – namely Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and House Speaker Michael Madigan – are in some sort of cabal.
“This is clearly part of a coordinated activity, coordinated pattern, between the attorney general, our comptroller and frankly our speaker, who coordinates it all, to create a crisis and shut down the government,” Rauner said Wednesday of movement on a pair of lawsuits relating to state workers’ pay and the overall budget stalemate.
The first involves a spat his office has been having with Comptroller Mendoza over where money to pay roughly 600 state employees should come from. Rauner alleges that Mendoza is trying to force a shutdown by depleting a state fund that his administration has been trying to keep flush in case of an emergency.
Late Tuesday, a St. Clair County judge sided against the governor, and with Mendoza.
“The court in St. Clair County recognized the authority of the Illinois Comptroller’s Office to act as an independent entity from the governor and every other constitutional office … I hope that the governor uses that ruling as a teachable moment,” Mendoza said. “Let there be no mistake that there has been only one person in this state that dating back to March of 2013 said that if he had the opportunity to have a do-over and to shut down government he would take it. That person is Bruce Rauner.”
This case isn’t over; though the employees will get paid this week per their regular paycheck schedule, Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis says the administration is appealing “because we are going to continue fighting Comptroller Mendoza's push to cripple state government operations – part of the coordinated effort to shut down state government.”
The other case also stems from St. Clair County; a couple of weeks ago, the same judge sided with the governor instead of the attorney general in a much bigger lawsuit, involving all state employees. They haven’t skipped a single paycheck even though Illinois is now in its 21st month without a real budget.
Madigan says that’s not how it’s supposed to work; that per the constitution, state employees shouldn’t be getting paid if there is no law authorizing it. Madigan has filed a motion asking the Illinois Supreme Court to bypass the appeal’s court and take the case.
In response to the governor’s accusation that this is part of a Democratic plot to force a shutdown, Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley says “the governor is clearly desperate to shift blame onto anyone but himself. He needs to stop the baseless finger-pointing and do his job.”
The attorney general is the daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan – the last part of the triad the governor accuses of colluding to shut down the state.
“It sounds like a lot of delusional babble, and I’m concerned because that seems to be happening from him more and more often,” spokesman Steve Brown said. “So I don’t know what kind of state he’s in, but certainly it’s troubling."
A shutdown on account of a lack of budget would be politically problematic for Rauner heading into an election cycle, and could hurt his chances for getting through his “turnaround agenda” that is at the heart of the impasse.
Still, without a budget, funding for government operations risks running dry.
To that end, Rauner continues to say that he wants a “grand bargain” and budget to pass, despite claims that it was his office that sunk the package.
Top aides for Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno say they are continuing to talk, and that it’s too important not to.
But Democrats are outwardly frustrated.
Cullerton’s spokesman says, “We are in a holding pattern until we get an indication from Republicans that there is Republican support for proposals they helped put together.”
The governor says he wants evidence of deeper spending cuts before he’ll sign off on the “grand bargain” and its income tax increase, but Democrats say Rauner’s own budget proposal is seriously out of balance – even more than originally thought, given new estimates from the state’s nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which show next year’s revenues coming $329 million weaker than Rauner’s estimates of $32.7 billion.
All this week, senators have brought Rauner’s agency directors forward in a series of budget hearings and asked for examples of where they would cut to reach a balanced budget; the directors by and large were unable to give specifics.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle (at least those who are Cubs fans) were in good spirits for part of Wednesday, as they spent at least an hour in a joint session celebrating the Cub’s World Series win – taking pictures with the trophy and Ryne Sandburg, and even signing “Go, Cubs, Go.”
The ceremony started with a blessing from a rabbi of a synagogue near Wrigley Field who said that if a man-made miracle like the Cubs winning the World Series can happen, maybe there’s hope the General Assembly can bring about another miracle and finally pass a budget.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky
March 7: Following calls Monday by Chance the Rapper to “do your job,” Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday said there are two viable plans to quickly get $215 million to Chicago Public Schools.
March 3: Fresh off of his Grammy glory, Chicago’s 23-year-old Chance the Rapper used his celeb status to score a private meeting Friday with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to discuss Chicago Public Schools.
March 1: The state Senate was scheduled to take final votes Wednesday on a plan to end Illinois’ budget impasse. Instead, it adjourned without any action.