Senate 'Grand Bargain' Begins To Move, But Toughest Votes Are Still Ahead

Feb 28, 2017

The Illinois Senate made progress Tuesday on its so-called grand bargain.

Senators approved measures intended to streamline local government, expand casino gambling, and fully fund the state for the first time in 20 months.

There was at least some bipartisan support on every measure. Sen. Don Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, says they never expected overwhelming majorities.

“I’m sure that you would have seen a lot more Republicans voting yes if the governor was full-throated in support of this package of bills," Harmon said. "I think we can read from the roll calls that he and his team are still working against it."

A spokeswoman for Governor Bruce Rauner did not respond to questions about whether the governor is working against the deal.

Instead, she sent a prepared statement saying while the administration appreciates the Senate's efforts, "more work is needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers."

The Senate is expected to take up the more controversial parts of the bargain Wednesday. That includes changing the way injured workers are compensated, expanding the sales tax to cover more services, and raising the income tax by 1.24 percentage points.

One piece of the grand bargain failed so far: a measure to cut government pension benefits, though that could be brought back for another vote.

After 20 months without a budget, Senate President John Cullerton says he thinks the harsh reality of Illinois’ deficit will help pass the more controversial parts of the deal.

“This is the classic compromise," Cullerton said. "So you get as much as you can and you don’t overestimate how much you think you’re entitled to."

Every component of the deal must pass or none of it can become law.