With just days left in the spring session, chances appeared to grow Friday that Illinois will begin its second year without a permanent budget in place.
A short meeting between the four legislative leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner ended with the GOP leaders accusing Democratic leaders of pulling the plug on negotiations over Rauner’s turnaround agenda.
For his part, House Speaker Michael Madigan said Rauner was adding new topics to his turnaround agenda while not persuading negotiators that the agenda should be adopted. Madigan also said the budget bill passed by the House this week was intended to prevent anyone from being held hostage to the state’s budget impasse.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton showed a “dramatic change in tone” from a meeting held Thursday.
“The Democrat leaders essentially pulled the plug on negotiations,” Radogno said. “They want to push the balanced budget reforms off until the fall, after the election. It’s clear their priority is political and not for the good of the state.”
Rauner has insisted that parts of his turnaround agenda – like workers compensation reform, collective bargaining changes and property tax relief – must be approved by lawmakers before he’ll consider tax hikes to balance the budget. A number of working groups of rank-and-file lawmakers have been meeting in private to try and work out compromises on those issues.
“Progress has been reported and confirmed by rank and file members in both chambers and both parties on key issues,” Radogno said. “What I think is happening is the rank and file Democrats are getting ahead of the entrenched leadership they have and the leaders now want to pull that back.”
“To me the indication is the leadership does not want to walk out of here next week with a balanced budget,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.
However, Madigan repeated his statement that Rauner has been “unpersuasive” in convincing lawmakers to adopt his turnaround agenda. He also said the issue is complicated by the fact Rauner’s negotiators add items to the agenda. Most recently, Madigan said, it was changes to retiree health insurance.
“It’s really not helpful that at this late stage, new items are being introduced,” Madigan said.
However, Radogno and Durkin both insisted they didn’t know anything about new topics being added to the agenda.
Even though time is running out, Rauner said he isn’t backing off of his agenda.
“At this point, the continuing negotiations are still on,” Rauner said. “We’ve continuing the process. We’ll never give up. The working groups have made great progress.”
Cullerton said he remains committed to the working groups and trying to reach a compromise on Rauner’s reforms, but time is running out.
“The reality is that we need revenue with reforms to have a balanced budget and it is the end of May,” Cullerton said in a statement. “If we run out of ti8me, we have no backup plan to keep the state operating.”
That’s why, Cullerton said, he suggested lawmakers approve a short-term budget to carry the state for several months while work continues on a permanent solution.
The idea was shot down almost immediately by Rauner’s budget director Tim Nuding.
“The idea of pushing this issue off and simply doing a stopgap to defer the decision to another day is something that I personally will recommend to the governor that we not embrace,” Nuding said.
Nuding said he believes negotiations are “within striking distance of a potential deal if everyone is willing to deal.”
Nuding also said that if the budget bill that passed the House last week reaches the governor’s desk, he will recommend it be vetoed in its entirety. He said the administration’s preliminary estimates were correct and the bill is $7.5 billion out of balance.
Madigan defended the House budget plan because it prevents “hostage taking” during the budget stalemate.
“We’re not going hold hostage people in education, we’re not to hold hostage people who need health care, we’re not going to hold hostage people who need social services,” Madigan said, ticking off areas that would get funding under the bill.
Madigan said he’ll negotiate with Rauner to come up with money to pay for the bill.
If the state doesn’t come up with a full budget, Nuding said it will be “much more difficult” for Illinois to try to limp through another year with no spending plan in place.
“Vendors are stretched to their limit,” Nuding said. “We are at risk without a balanced budget in place.”
It’s a particular concern with paying utilities and other vendors who supply prisons and residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities, he said. Fuel for state vehicles could also become an issue.
“This is an unacceptable situation. It should not be allowed to continue,” Nuding said. “It will only get worse from here.”
Both the House and Senate will take off Saturday and will return to session Sunday. After Tuesday, it will take three-fifths votes in the House and Senate to pass bills, including a new state budget.