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Thursday, July 7, 2016 12:18 am

Finger-pointing, a stopgap budget and reform

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan rose to give his customary year-end speech after the House had concluded its business last week and pointed his finger right at Gov. Bruce Rauner.

For months, Madigan has noted that every time Rauner sets aside his “personal agenda,” the two men have been able to reach a compromise on a spending proposal. What Madigan refers to as a personal agenda is actually Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, a package of mainly pro-business/anti-union measures that the Legislature’s Democratic majority has so far refused to approve. And Rauner won’t agree to a full budget deal until that happens, which is why Illinois went a year without a budget.

Madigan informed the chamber that the new, temporary stopgap budget deal and K-12 education spending plan passed last week represented the “seventh time” they have approved spending proposals independent of the governor’s agenda in the last 18 months.

But pension reform is very near the top of the governor’s “personal agenda.” And, last week, Madigan put votes on a bill which gives Chicago Public Schools $205 million for its pension system. And, per the agreement he made with Rauner, it will only be signed into law if the leaders can agree on a significant pension reform bill by January.

Madigan was reportedly reluctant to make that deal. He called it a “trap” during private negotiations with the governor. He could be right about this being a trap. Barring divine intervention, CPS will face yet another severe cash crunch next June as it struggles to make its huge annual pension payment. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will probably be desperate for a deal to get access to that state cash infusion. And the unions which support Madigan (meaning all of them) are not going to love having to wage yet another pension reform fight. Madigan will be “trapped” in the middle.

The Speaker was reportedly convinced to accept the offer at the urging of Mayor Emanuel. And, even then, Madigan insisted on having a bipartisan roll call, with a strict minimum number of Republican votes – and he stuck to that demand even though the House Republicans were short a couple of members last week.

The point, though, is that the governor, after a year and a half of private cajoling and public bullying, finally succeeded at convincing Mayor Emanuel to put some pressure on Madigan to do a deal. And that pressure will only increase as the January passage deadline approaches for pension reform. Once that begins it may be hard to contain, so Team Rauner is likely hoping they can use similar ideas to force Madigan to the table on other Turnaround Agenda items, like workers’ compensation cost cuts and reduced rights for unionized employees in local governments.

Madigan could, however, use all this to his own political advantage through the summer and fall.

Gov. Rauner said last week that helping the legislative Republicans pick up seats in November would be a top priority from here on out. He correctly noted that their super-minority status meant they had little influence at the Statehouse. He wants to give them a bigger voice. Rauner has said previously that if the Democrats pick up any seats this November it would be a “disaster” for taxpayers. And he has repeatedly said that the Democrats have made it clear it will be easier for them to do a “grand bargain” if they wait until after the election.

That all adds up to a huge incentive for unions to rally behind Madigan. If they work hard and help Madigan pick up some seats, perhaps they can stave off a “grand bargain.” But if they slack off even a little and Madigan suffers a loss, no matter how slight, the grand bargaining could commence in earnest.

If Madigan’s interest group allies truly go all out and can build on the natural Democratic advantage of a presidential election year, and perhaps the added advantage of a pretty darned odd Republican nominee, Madigan could definitely pick up seats. The Democrats have polling which they say shows this could happen.

But the Republicans have polling which they claim shows they’re doing really well in numerous targeted legislative districts.

That’s one reason why the Republicans could justify last week’s stopgap budget bargain even though it’s widely expected to take lots of heat off of incumbents (and there are a whole lot more Democratic incumbents than Republican incumbents). At least, that’s the hope. This has been, after all, a very bizarre year all over the place.  

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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