Legislators Propose Alternatives to ‘Grand Bargain’

Nearly three months after Senate leaders unveiled a so-called “grand bargain,” the gridlock in Springfield has only intensified.

For two years, Illinois state government negotiations have revolved around Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “turnaround agenda.”

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Democrats in the House and Senate who’ve spent that whole time fighting Rauner have now introduced one of their own: the “comeback agenda.” It’s a progressive response to Rauner’s pro-business plan to grow the state’s economy.

Senate President John Cullerton isn’t directly involved; he is still working with his Republican counterpart, Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno, on the stalled “grand bargain.”

Nor was House Speaker Michael Madigan part of the unveiling – except for a couple of press releases, Madigan has been operating in the shadows so far this year.

Rather, this latest plan comes from rank-and-file Democrats.

“As we said ‘no’ to ideas that we didn’t like, we weren’t going a good enough job of putting forth the ideas that we believed in,” Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said. “The concern there is that it makes it seem like we think that the status quo is just fine … and we want to be really clear that we know the status quo isn’t working for the people of Illinois.”

The “Comeback” agenda isn’t a budget. At this point, it’s mostly broad strokes of progressive principles, though Democrats say want to move some legislation right away, like:

• Expanding child care subsidies for low income parents and college students

• Passing a constitutional amendment to allow Illinois to tax the rich at a higher rate

• Combating expensive campaigns with public funding of candidates

• Eliminating tax credits for companies that move jobs out of state

• Ending the cash bond system, which critics say traps poor people who can’t afford to pay bail

Other policy goals are more general, like college affordability. Some of Demcrats’ plans even mirror Rauner’s wish list. For example, both sides want to change how legislative maps are drawn, though they and Republicans have different views of what that change should look like.

Democrats have supermajorities in the legislature so technically have the numbers to pass it, but it’s unlikely you’ll see Illinios House Speaker Michael Madigan agree to changes in redistricting.

Illinois is already in campaign mode for next year’s elections, so some of these issues may be more about that than actual legislation. However, passing them could also take potentially galvanizing campaign issues away from candidates for governor who have already introduced similar platforms of their own.

Even before Democrats' press conference had started, the state GOP denounced the “comeback agenda.”

“While it's nice to see Democrats join the Governor on criminal justice reform and improving schools, it's alarming that their agenda appears to include nothing to lower property taxes or increase jobs throughout the state,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a statement.

Republicans this week came out with a proposal of their own. One of their hang-ups with the “grand bargain” is that it doesn't cut the budget enough. Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, Monday proposed a set of bills that he says would cut $5 billion dollars from the budget, through across-the-board reductions to state agencies and by giving the governor the unilateral power to cut even more.

Brady says it’s meant to run in tandem with the “grand bargain,” not to replace it.

The Senate top leaders are still talking, and though there was early talk they’d try to vote on the  “grand bargain” package Wednesday, Republicans are apparently still reticent.

These spin-offs indicate diminishing faith in the “grand bargain,” but sponsors of these ideas say they are not meant to undermine negotiations.

Cullerton and Radogno’s ongoing conversations mean the “grand bargain” continues to evolve, but broadly, it still includes public pension cuts, giving Chicago a casino, retooling workers’ compensation, and an income tax increase. The original notion of a permanent hike has instead turned to a five-year, temporary one.

Follow Amanda Vinicky onTwitter: @AmandaVinicky

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