Rauner, Madigan 'Circling Like Dogs'

Jun 29, 2015

Illinois legislators will return to Springfield Tuesday, leaving them one last day to get a budget deal in order. This year's spending plan expires at midnight on June 30. Not only is there no long-term agreement, there's no sign of a provisional one either.

Credit Brian Mackey / WUIS - Illinois Issues

Democrats say they did their part: they passed a spending plan before the end of May, when the legislative session was originally scheduled to end. But last week Rauner rejected nearly all of it, citing that it was nearly $4 billion out of balance. Rauner says Illinois can't postpone its day of reckoning any longer; he won't go along with a "phony" budget. Hence, the stalemate.

"Now we're going to have a rough summer," he'd said in May. "(Be)cause these insiders will not give up their power easily. But we will not back down. We will not back down."

Save for a last-minute solution that no one seems to think plausible, come Wednesday (on July 1) Illinois will have lost its spending authority. While schools are safe, nearly everything else is imperiled. It's not like all of government would come to a screeching halt at the stroke of midnight. State employees are still expected to come to work, and their next paychecks aren't to be issued for a couple of weeks, anyway.

But there's worry about services that may be affected; human service agencies could be the first to hurt if checks from the state stop flowing.

"Treating children with autism is consistency, and constancy. And the prospect of a prospect of a state shutdown is going to destroy that for many parents, and the children who are receiving services and that's really why it's so frightening to the parents," Mark Schmidt is with The Autism Program of Illinois said last week.

Democrats say it doesn't have to be this way. Just before Rauner took over as governor, with his encouragement, a planned cut in Illinois' income tax rate was allowed to proceed.

Democrats say the solution to getting Illinois finances in order should rely on some cuts, sure. But not the drastic version Rauner proposed. They say the fix has to include some sort of tax hike. And here's the rub: Rauner, though a Republican, isn't closed off to the idea.

But not until he gets his way on a pro-business, anti-union platform -- a platform that has Roberta Lynch, who heads AFSCME, the state's largest public employees' union, saying Rauner may be worse than the GOP's anti-labor poster-child, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

"They're both driven by a hostility to workers being able to come together, and unite and have a voice," Lynch said. "He's certainly joined at the hip with Scott Walker, in his very fierce, antagonism toward the right of working people to come together and have a voice."

Much of Rauner's plan cuts to the bone of Democrats' core values, so it's no surprise they haven't gone along with it. They say Rauner is holding the state budget --- and those who depend on it -- hostage to his agenda.

"People don't come to the legislature to reduce the standard of living of people that voted for them to come here," House Speaker Michael Madigan said. "That's not why they come here."

Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for all but two of the last 32 years. It's a grip on power that's given Madigan the reputation of political chess master.

Head of the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs, Chris Mooney, says what's really going on is a showdown: Not just between Republicans and Democrats, but between one Republican, and one Democrat. "It is a situation of, two dogs in the yards, going around and around in circles. And the two dogs in this case, primarily, are Gov. Rauner and Speaker Mike Madigan," Mooney said.

But this is no scrappy, backyard fight. It's one that Rauner is using his fortune, and that of his other business magnate friends, to play out in public. Though the next statewide election isn't until next year, and though Rauner himself isn't up for re-election until 2018, in mid-June he started blitzing TVs statewide an ad attacking Madigan.

So far, the ad doesn't appear to have swayed its target; there's some thought it only served to deepen the gridlock. Still, it could ultimately help Gov. Rauner win the public to his side.

And he has plenty of millions left in the bank if he wants to up the ante, particularly if the impasse continues, and a partial government shutdown turns into a full-blown one.

And therein lies a very expensive wild card. Just who will voters blame if it gets to that point?