SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate’s top Democrat abruptly canceled critical votes Wednesday on a plan to end the state’s historic budget stalemate, accusing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of sabotaging a compromise that had been months in the making.
After voting was called off, local lawmakers gave their thoughts on the continued budget stalemate.
“The good news is negotiations to craft a balanced budget are proceeding,” said Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry. “The more disheartening news is it’s proving to be a lot more difficult than what was originally anticipated by many.”
“We want to ensure that whatever grand bargain is agreed to is in the best interest of the taxpayer,” Althoff added.
Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said although he believes there still is an opportunity to try to negotiate a better deal for taxpayers, there might be a ways to go.
“I think the package as it had been outlined was not a good deal for taxpayers,” McConchie said. “Taxpayers give up a lot in regards to billions of dollars more for the state and got very little in return. ... So I think the fact that this has not advanced at this point is a good thing for taxpayers.”
Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago ditched his earlier vow to call votes on key parts of the so-called “grand bargain,” including an income-tax increase and property tax-freeze. After the Senate clocked out, Cullerton questioned the first-term governor’s sincerity in meeting legislative Democrats half way to end the nation’s longest budget stalemate in nearly a century.
“He’s got to grow up,” Cullerton said about Rauner.
Cullerton had promised votes on the toughest aspects of the sprawling compromise plan he’s engineered since before the new year with Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. They had boasted that neither the House nor Rauner was involved; Rauner insisted he was on the sidelines.
Democrats and Republicans spent most of the day in private meetings. When they regrouped on the floor late in the afternoon, Cullerton tersely claimed Rauner had hijacked the plan.
“The governor injected himself into the process and doesn’t want this approved in this form,” Cullerton said before the Senate adjourned for the day without taking action on the plan. “The situation is not getting any better. We need to work together to solve this. I had hoped it would be today.”
Cullerton didn’t rule out salvaging parts of the deal, but added, “Unfortunately, we are in a holding pattern.”
Top Senate Republicans dismissed the idea that Rauner called them off “aye” votes. Deputy Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington reiterated one of Rauner’s main complaints in recent days that the GOP won’t accept a permanent income-tax increase if Democrats insist on limiting their cherished local property tax freeze to two years.
“More work is needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said. “We encourage senators to keep working.”
Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly have bickered for two years over how to tackle a multibillion-dollar deficit. Rauner won’t agree to an income-tax hike until he gets pro-business regulatory changes, a permanent property tax freeze, and term limits on political leaders.
Cullerton and Radogno raised expectations for a breakthrough just after the new year with promises to quickly approve a package that raised revenue and met Rauner’s demands. But all they have to show for it are Tuesday votes approving less-contentious measures to streamline state-government purchasing, ease rules on how cities may spend tax revenue and simplify the way voters consolidate local governments. Even those were adopted mostly with Democratic votes.
In remarks on the floor, Radogno didn’t dispute Cullerton’s assertion about Rauner’s involvement but urged continued work.
“I have no question in my mind that we’re going to bring this thing in for a landing,” Radogno said. “There’s enough good will in this building. I know the governor will be joining us in trying to get that done.”
• Northwest Herald reporter Nate Linhart contributed to this story.