Madigan blasts Rauner’s agenda, says governor wants government shutdown


Michael Madigan and Bruce Rauner. (TNS)

By Monique Garcia and Rick Pearson and Celeste Bott, Chicago Tribune

After sitting down with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for the first time since December, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan exited out the back door, providing no status update on Tuesday’s hour-long gathering.

The speaker, it turned out, was saving his impressions of how the meeting went for the House floor.

In a rare, 10-minute speech, Madigan ratcheted up his rhetoric against Rauner, delivering a scathing address in which he accused the former private equity investor of trying to make good on an early campaign threat to shut down state government by pursuing a “personal agenda” aimed at harming the middle class.


Speaker for all but two years since 1983, the 13th Ward Democrat told the House he has a long record of working with governors of both parties, even ones with whom he’s had strong disagreements. The situation with Rauner is different, Madigan said.

“Over the last 13 months, compromise has been very difficult to achieve. Never before has the state gone this long without a budget. Every other governor that I have worked with has negotiated with the General Assembly in good faith to help the people of Illinois and to ensure that the people of our state would not needlessly suffer,” Madigan said. “The fact is the current budget crisis is completely avoidable. While this crisis was avoidable, Gov. Rauner has refused to put an end to the crisis.”

Then Madigan, a week shy of his 74th birthday, muscled through a plan to spend nearly $4 billion on higher education and social services, which have languished without state funding amid the record-long budget stalemate. Rauner has threatened to veto the measure, arguing there isn’t enough money to pay for the spending.

A Rauner spokeswoman declined to directly address Madigan’s remarks, saying instead that the administration stood by a letter it sent to lawmakers earlier Tuesday. The missive, from deputy chief of staff Richard Goldberg, chided Democrats for pushing “another phony budget” bill.

“Now is the time to negotiate in good faith, not push each other farther apart. Now is the time for bipartisan solutions, not another partisan spending bill filled with empty promises,” Goldberg wrote.

Illinois has been operating without a complete budget since last July, when Rauner vetoed almost the entire spending plan Democrats sent him, one that was at least $4 billion out of balance. The only portion Rauner approved was nearly $7 billion in K-12 funding to ensure schools opened on time last fall.

This spring, with prospects for an end to the stalemate dim, education spending is in the cross hairs as Rauner and Democrats fight over the future of school funding. The governor has called on Democrats to send him a bill that would spend an extra $55 million and ensure the next school year isn’t disrupted should the stalemate drag on. Democrats say the governor’s plan only throws more money at an inequitable system that props up wealthy districts to the detriment of poorer ones and suggest now is the time to overhaul the entire school aid funding formula.


Rauner told an annual meeting of business groups Tuesday the Democratic strategy was designed to purposely create chaos over school funding in an effort to force a tax increase.

“They’re trying to create a crisis so our public schools don’t open, to force a tax hike,” Rauner said. “Believe me, it’s hand-to-hand combat every day. It’s really hard to run a government without a budget. Really hard.”

For months, Madigan had offered a dispassionate response to Rauner’s attacks on the Democratic legislative majority, accusing the governor of “operating in the extreme” but saying he would work “professionally” to find compromise with the Republican governor on a budget balanced with cuts and the need for new revenue.

But with his floor speech on Tuesday, Madigan provided a Democratic playbook for his candidates in critical legislative elections this fall that find all 118 House seats and 40 state Senate seats up for election against Republicans wanting Rauner’s backing and campaign cash.

Madigan noted he has worked under six governors, including four Republicans and two Democrats, in reaching past budget compromises to ensure services to those most in need of government help. But that, Madigan said, has stopped with Rauner, contending it has been the Republican governor’s strategy all along to try to get rid of public unions and seek a state government shutdown.

The Democratic leader quoted from a speech then-candidate Rauner made a couple of years ago in Tazewell County in which he likened the need to act in state government the way President Ronald Reagan did in a 1981 decision to fire thousands of striking air traffic controllers.

“I apologize but we may have to go through a little rough times and we have to do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers,” Rauner said at that dinner. “We sort of have to do a do-over and shut things down for a little while, that’s what we’re going to do.”

In addition, by calling Rauner out for pushing what he called the governor’s “personal agenda,” which includes union-weakening provisions involving collective bargaining and paying prevailing union wage rates on public works projects, Madigan made it clear that the battle between the two men had escalated well beyond any professional disagreements with no budget resolution at hand.

Earlier Tuesday, education funding had emerged as the latest battleground, as both tried to gain the upper hand on the issue.

Rauner’s approach took the form of the carrot, as he dangled out a list detailing how dollars would be doled out to school districts across the state under his plan to beef up K-12 spending by $55 million this year. It’s a time-tested tactic aimed at building support within districts that would benefit from the plan, designed to put pressure on suburban Democrats whose schools stand to take home more dollars.

Madigan employed the stick, introducing a constitutional amendment to make public education in Illinois a “fundamental right,” creating the potential for the state to be sued if it doesn’t come up with the majority of money to finance public schools. It’s a signal that Democrats aren’t backing down from their larger plan to rewrite the state’s school aid formula following years of complaints that districts with a lesser ability to raise money from property taxes are falling farther behind property tax-rich districts.

Under Rauner’s plan, Chicago would lose $74 million, though some suburban districts would take in millions more.

The plan was immediately blasted by Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, who said the proposal amounted to “doubling down on a broken educational funding system.”

“The budget he puts forth continues to cut education funding for poor districts throughout the state of Illinois, including the Chicago Public Schools, while increasing education funding for wealthy districts. And he’s trying to justify it by claiming it’s a good thing,” Claypool said of Rauner’s plan to reporters gathered at school district headquarters.

Claypool instead supported pending legislation backed by Senate President John Cullerton and Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, as “a positive step in the right direction.”

That bill represents Manar’s latest effort to revamp how the state doles out money to school districts and also includes a provision to have the state pick up $200 million in CPS pension costs. The pension payment provision has elicited concern from Madigan, while Republicans have panned the measure as a bailout for the Chicago school system.

Meanwhile, Madigan has proposed a state constitutional amendment changing the education article of Illinois’ governing document and creating the potential for the state to be sued if it doesn’t come up with the majority of money to finance public schools.

Madigan was a delegate to the convention that drew up the 1970 Constitution, including the current education article, which says: “The state has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

But under a 1973 legal challenge brought by interests arguing that the state should provide more than half the funding of public schools, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the intent of the phrase “was to state a commitment, a purpose, a goal” and was not a legal mandate.

The phrase, inserted by the late state comptroller and senator Dawn Clark Netsch, was aimed at acknowledging concerns over the inequality of funding among the state’s public school districts, based on local property-tax wealth.

Madigan’s proposed constitutional amendment would strike the “primary responsibility” language. Instead, it would say “the state has the preponderant financial responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

It also would change the wording that the state’s system of “free schools” was a “fundamental goal” to a “fundamental right.”

Moreover, it would declare it to be “the paramount duty of the state” to “guarantee equality of educational opportunity as a fundamental right of each citizen.”

Madigan’s proposal would require a three-fifths majority of the members of the House and Senate to appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot for ratification from the voters.


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