Madigan re-elected speaker for 17th time, lays out Democratic economic agenda



Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton listen as Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks about making changes in the state on Monday Jan. 12, 2015 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, Ill. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

A newly re-elected House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday unveiled a series of proposals aimed at jump-starting job growth in Illinois, the Democratic response to the economic agenda Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has pushed for two years as the sides remain deadlocked on a state budget.

The plan represents a pivot in strategy for the longtime speaker, who has been facing pressure from members of his own caucus to develop a counter to the governor’s plans beyond mere opposition. But it provides little movement toward a budget resolution as universities and social service providers fear for their futures after their state funding ran out at the start of the new year.

While Madigan began his remarks on the first day of the new session lamenting the difficulty of the just-concluded one and calling for both the sides to “work to end the acrimony and find the best in each other,” he went on to make it clear that he was not caving to Rauner’s demands, which the governor has made a condition of a larger budget agreement.


“Some of us believe that we can grow the economy by changes in workers’ compensation, collective bargaining and prevailing wage,” Madigan said, referring to Rauner without using his name. “These people would argue that changes in those areas would lower the cost for Illinois businesses, which would act as an incentive for businesses to locate in Illinois or stay in Illinois. Obviously, this approach focuses almost exclusively on cost. In my opinion, this would be a race to the bottom that would unjustifiably hurt Illinois workers.”

It was a softening in tone for Madigan, who repeatedly has called Rauner’s economic ideas “extreme” and argued they should be considered separately from budget talks.

Republicans greeted the change with cautious optimism, but were quick to note they would not be abandoning their wish list simply because Democrats have offered up their alternative. Indeed, many of the ideas floated by Madigan were not new and already have been opposed by the GOP, including a tax on people who earn more than $1 million a year to fund education.

“Our state is suffering,” said House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs. “It is in need of help. By taking that oath, we are charged with fixing it. Today, we are at two years without a budget, a balanced budget, and yes, we need and must break this impasse. To break the impasse, both sides must respect each other’s priorities. That means negotiate, compromise.”

Durkin noted there’s reason for Republicans to be wary, pointing to numerous votes on legislation that was never intended to become law, including this week’s passage of a property tax freeze that House lawmakers approved even though there wasn’t time for the Senate to consider it.

“Why? To create political ads and mail pieces for strictly political purposes,” Durkin said. “That is not active participation in state government. Enough is enough.” As Durkin spoke, the Illinois Republican Party flooded reporters’ inboxes with e-mails attacking Democratic lawmakers for electing Madigan to his record 17th term as speaker. He’s been running the House for all but two years since 1983. As the GOP tries to dethrone Madigan, the party spent tens of millions of dollars last year on legislative races and made a net gain of four House seats.

Despite calls for his ouster by the Rauner-funded state GOP and newspaper editorial boards, the vote was never really in question. Madigan won the support of 66 of his 67 Democratic members. Rep. Scott Drury, a Democrat from Highwood in Lake County who briefly had talked about finding an alternative to Madigan, voted “present.”


For his part, Rauner issued a statement that amounted to welcoming the Democrats to the party, saying that after two years, “both Democratic leaders finally agree that we must have a balanced budget with economic changes to increase our competitiveness to grow jobs.”

“Now let’s come together on a bipartisan basis to ensure all proposals truly take the state in a better direction,” Rauner said.

Madigan first outlined his plans in a letter published Wednesday morning in the State Journal-Register, the Springfield newspaper. His proposals include cutting the corporate income tax rate by at least 50 percent, but applying that rate across the board so that a vast majority of businesses that current don’t pay any income taxes will have to pony up.

Madigan also wants to keep on the books a sometimes controversial tax credit for businesses that create new jobs, and ban “any future tax incentives for corporations that ship American jobs out of our country.” The speaker also called for expanding the earned income tax credit for low-income families, and raising the minimum wage — an idea Democrats have long pushed for but largely abandoned during the budget stalemate.

The speaker also resurrected his plan to tax those who earn over $1 million to help fund education, a tax hike that could hit both he and the governor. Madigan is a co-founder of a property tax appeals firm, while Rauner is a former private equity specialist.

Rank-and-file members of both parties said they were encouraged by Madigan’s change in tune, but said there is a long road ahead before an agreement can be reached.

“I was pleased to hear the speaker offer something different than we’ve heard in the past, which is what I think is needed to break this impasse,” said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook. “Compromise, you can perceive it as a good thing or you can perceive it as caving, and whatever word you want to do put to it, we need to make progress.”

Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington said Republicans will still push for items on the governor’s agenda, including cost-cutting changes to the workers compensation system and term limits.

“The speaker needs to come to the middle with the governor and us, the House Republicans,” Brady said. “So let’s hope today starts anew, let’s hope it’s not just words and rhetoric.”

In the Senate, Democratic President John Cullerton and Republican leader Christine Radogno, already had signaled an eagerness to restart negotiations when they floated a framework for legislation earlier this week they said could break the budget stalemate. The series of bills were quickly shelved after rank-and-file lawmakers complained about making hasty moves in the lame-duck session, especially when the ideas hadn’t been embraced by the House.

Still, the effort set a more friendly tone for the Senate’s swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, where Rauner presided and offered praise of Cullerton, the Democrat who he often paints as a lesser villain in his ongoing power struggle with Madigan.

“He’s got one heck of a hard job, I know,” Rauner said. “We all need to battle for what we firmly believe is right, but I hope the good lord grants us the wisdom to find common ground.”

But once the governor took a seat in the audience, Cullerton took to the podium and gave a characteristically sarcastic sermon that took obvious swipes at Rauner for his continued campaign-style tactics.

“While we call for bipartisanship and compromise, political attack dogs snipe at every development,” Cullerton complained. “There’s plenty of time and issues to campaign on…when it’s campaign season. How about if we just try governing for a little bit?”

In a nod to Rauner’s call for term limits on elected officials, the chamber agreed to new rules that set limits on Senate leadership so that no lawmaker could serve in a leadership role for more than five two-year terms. The new rule, which could be changed down the road, was more symbolic than practical. Both Cullerton and Radogno already have served four leadership terms, making the new term that began Wednesday their fifth. But past terms won’t count toward the limit, a Cullerton aide said, meaning the two wouldn’t reach the limit until 2027.

Radogno said the new rule “demonstrates that we’re serious about this,” and noted that there were plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would put term limits on all lawmakers. The new rule cleared the chamber 58-0. Sen. Steve Landek, D-Bridgeview, did not cast a vote.

Two years ago, Cullerton resisted Rauner’s calls for a constitutional amendment enacting term limits. At the time, the Senate president reasoned that the effort was premature in a non-election year, since constitutional amendments must be put before the voters. This time, however, Cullerton had no objection when Radogno introduced the legislation.

An aide said in an email that Cullerton was “heading into a new session with an open mind.”

“I think, personally, the state has been shaken up enough,” Cullerton concluded in his speech, borrowing slogans from Rauner and another prominent Republican politician. “Let’s make Illinois great again.”


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