Rauner, top lawmakers hold lengthy talks on budget impasse, Madigan ‘optimistic’


Michael Madigan and Bruce Rauner. (TNS)

By Monique Garcia and Kim Geiger, Chicago Tribune

Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders met behind closed doors for three hours at the Capitol on Tuesday, with normally cagey Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan professing optimism, his Senate counterpart proclaiming they’re “halfway there” and Republicans reminding everyone that “caution is always in order.”

If all of that sounds vague, both the tone and the length of the meeting at least marked a change from a month ago, when the meetings were shorter and frustration boiled over. Back then, the governor accused Democrats of spending the state “into a toilet” and turning Illinois into a “banana republic,” while House and Senate Democrats played out an intra-party spat that led to them not even sending Rauner a budget.

Now state lawmakers return to the Capitol on Wednesday for the first time since that May 31 meltdown as talks continue on a stopgap budget, extension of a road construction program and education funding bill. Before the closed-door meeting, blueprints of legislation the two political parties unveiled indicated they were close on a temporary budget but far apart on school spending.


“I am optimistic,” said Madigan, who was first to emerge from the marathon meeting and said the parties had agreed to sleep on the negotiations and reconvene in the morning. “I am optimistic that we can solve a whole host of problems, and a lot of good can be done for the people of the state of Illinois.”

Republicans weren’t quite as effusive, but neither did they come out on the attack. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs described the discussion as “healthy” but “fluid,” saying the group was “taking a very global perspective of the budget.” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont was uncharacteristically tight-lipped, offering only the warning of caution.

The meeting came after weeks of public posturing that saw both sides digging in on their dispute over how to keep state government agencies and elementary and secondary public schools afloat during the ongoing power struggle at the Capitol. The fight centers on whether or not to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Chicago Public Schools to help the district dig out of its financial hole.

Rauner has been pushing for a two-part solution to the budget impasse that would fund essential government services through the end of the year while sending enough money to schools to ensure that no district receives less in state aid than it got last year.

He doubled down on that request Tuesday morning when his office unveiled a revamped version of a six-month spending plan, incorporating what the governor’s team contends are spending concessions granted to Democrats during private budget talks. But Rauner also held firm on his insistence that CPS not receive extra funds this year, saying he opposes forcing “suburban and Downstate taxpayers to pay for a massive bailout of the severely mismanaged Chicago Public Schools system.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, floated their own six-month spending plan that was similar to the governor’s proposal. But they were insistent that a deal should come with additional money for education, including a huge boost to CPS.

In a sign of how far the tone had shifted Tuesday, Madigan began the day criticizing Rauner for his “rhetoric” on CPS, saying the governor should “knock it off,” while showing no sign of backing down on the Democrats’ pursuit of extra money for CPS.

“I think if we continue to work as we have, that eventually the governor will come around and understand that you can’t treat children differently,” Madigan said at a morning union event in Chicago.

“The governor should stop trying to make a distinction and a difference between a child that lives in Chicago and one that lives in Oak Park, Oak Lawn, Evanston, Carbondale, Springfield,” Madigan said. “Knock it off. Move toward compromise. Help every child all over the state.”

Madigan said the House already offered its preferred path forward on education funding when it passed a broader spending bill in late May that included a $700 million bump in funding for schools, much of which would go to CPS. The Senate rejected that bill amid divisions between Democrats.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also piled on, issuing a statement Tuesday accusing Rauner of wasting 18 months of his term and “holding the entire state hostage” to try to win his economic agenda that includes cost-cutting changes for business and a scaling back of union negotiating rights.

“After all that time, Bruce Rauner is doubling down on the failed formula that rewards wealthy children who grow up in elite communities and penalizes poor children in Chicago and across the state,” the statement read in part. “That is the real tragedy.”

It was against that backdrop that Rauner and legislative leaders held their pre-session meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Rauner’s plan carries a $50.3 billion price tag, including $8.2 billion from the state’s general checkbook, $33.7 billion from specialized funds and $8.4 billion in federal dollars.

Of that, $7 billion would go to local school districts, a $240 million increase from this year that would ensure schools can operate for a full year. While Rauner vetoed most of the spending plan Democrats sent him last year, he signed off on the schools portion — a nod to the political difficulties both parties will face if classrooms remain dark come this fall.

Rauner aides said CPS would be “held harmless,” meaning it would not lose state money next year as it otherwise would under the state school funding formula, but it also would not receive the additional state financial help the district seeks. The city district faces increased teacher pension costs after skipping payments for many years under Mayors Richard M. Daley and Emanuel. Rauner has derided CPS’ vocal request for money he calls a “bailout,” and CPS leadership in turn has banded together with other struggling school districts across Illinois saying the way the state funds schools is outdated and unacceptable.

Senate Democrats led by President John Cullerton of Chicago put out an initial education funding proposal Monday that included an increase in school spending of $760 million, along with an extra $75 million for early childhood education. CPS would get an additional $286 million in general state aid under the plan, along with an extra $100 million for pension payments. The proposal would not include a major overhaul of the school funding formula.

In late May, Madigan’s Democrats sent the Senate a budget that would spend $7 billion more than the state is expected to take in. Under that plan, CPS stands to gain $287 million more in state aid plus $100 million for pensions — about the same as the Senate plan.

The bottom line is that two sides stood around $600 million apart on school spending, including the CPS pension boost, and perhaps more importantly, differed on where the money should go.

Rauner repeated Tuesday that he would not sign off on help for Chicago schools, saying it was unfair to ask taxpayers across the state to bear responsibility for the city’s poor choices. “I have said it before, and I say it again today: We must not bail out a broken system that refuses to change the way it does business,” Rauner said in a statement.

Cullerton countered that the governor is being unfair to Chicago because the city’s schools don’t benefit from the same pension payment structure enjoyed by the rest of the districts in the state.

“The governor doesn’t acknowledge that the rest of the state’s getting $4 billion and he wants Chicago to get zero for their pension system,” Cullerton said Tuesday. “It’s just not fair.”

The second part of Rauner’s proposal would keep major government operations afloat for six months. It includes $1 billion for higher education, $729 million for food and medical services at prisons, fuel and maintenance for state police vehicles and the collection of taxes and child support. No money is set aside for state employee health insurance, which currently has a $3 billion bill backlog.

Roughly $650 million would be set aside for human service providers that care for the state’s most vulnerable but who are not being paid through various court orders or consent decrees that have kept state money flowing to other areas since July 1. Meanwhile, $33.2 billion would be earmarked for lottery prizes, debt payments and to keep road construction projects operating.

The Senate Democrats’ short-term spending plan closely mirrors the Rauner proposal.

Rauner has threatened a July shutdown of roadwork by the Illinois Department of Transportation without his stopgap plan. While there is not yet clear agreement on how to tackle the broad budget problem, keeping road projects on track is one possible area where a deal may be reached this week.

Madigan said earlier Tuesday that his chamber would be focusing on that issue on Wednesday, with plans to call a bill that would grant Rauner spending authority to keep the road projects going.

Cullerton, meanwhile, did not offer specifics, but said “it’s so exciting that we’re this close.”

“We’re halfway there,” he said. “We’re halfway there.”

Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne contributed. Geiger reported from Chicago.

(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.