A primer on Statehouse weirdness
After staring at my computer screen for over an hour, I realized that my goal of providing you a succinct and thoughtful analysis of what happened on a very weird day last week in Illinois government was impossible.
Instead, we’re going to have to take this in pieces.
- The court case – C.J. Baricevic was one of the lawyers representing a host of unions in their successful St. Clair County lawsuit last Thursday to force the state to pay its employees without a budget. The victory came just two days after a Cook County judge ruled that paying employees without an official state budget was a clear and total violation of the Illinois Constitution.
Why was St. Clair County’s ruling so different?
Well, Baricevic happens to be the son of the county’s chief judge, John Baricevic, who was once the county board chairman and is regarded as one of the most powerful Democrats in the region. The younger Baricevic is the local Democratic choice for Congress against freshman Republican Congressman Mike Bost. According to Ballotpedia, the judge in Thursday’s case also appears to be up for retention next year in the heavily unionized county.
Hey, I’m not saying nothing bad about no judges. I visit that fine county every now and then. I’m even told the judge in the case isn’t the type to be sensitive to such pressures. “He’s just a pro-labor guy at heart,” explained one area politico, who added that I was “reading too much” into the local political angle.
I’m just saying, is all.
Anyway, it appears that the legal issue of whether state workers get paid without a budget may have to go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court – if, that is, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is willing to endure the political flagellation she’ll most certainly receive for her almost Ahabian pursuit of this great white whale. The Democrat could’ve easily stepped aside and let the paychecks be processed. But, she’s convinced this is a constitutional violation, so onward and upward.
- The bill - House Republicans filed legislation last week to pay state employees for the rest of the fiscal year even if no budget is approved. That bill was bottled up because the majority House Democrats didn’t want to give them credit and also wanted to use the worker pay issue to put Gov. Bruce Rauner in a trick bag.
In an email to state employees earlier last week, Gov. Rauner pledged that his administration was “doing everything in our power” to make sure workers got paid. So, the Democrats decided to make him eat his words by tacking a one-month appropriation for state worker salaries onto an existing bill to fund some “essential” state services for a month – the same bill that Gov. Rauner already warned he would not sign. No Republicans voted to pay the employees, even though they had their own bill, but it passed anyway.
Madigan’s amendment even took the Senate Democrats by surprise. It was classic Madigan. He put literally everybody in the building except his own caucus on the spot - and further complicated an already extremely difficult overtime session.
- The governor’s response – Gov. Rauner’s spokesman started out typically enough with his response to the vote. “Today, Speaker Madigan and the legislators he controls irresponsibly voted for yet another unbalanced budget plan.”
That’s standard Rauner World language.
But then the response took an unusual twist.
“We also saw the speaker’s unwillingness to hold a vote on a tax increase that, absent reform, would suffer bipartisan defeat. The speaker’s failure to take up an accompanying revenue plan is a clear signal that rank-and-file members of the General Assembly understand that reform is necessary.”
In one breath he totally controls them, but in the very next they’re rebelling?
What’s happening here is that Rauner and his people are attempting to make it look like everyone is against Madigan.
Earlier last week, Rauner suggested that Senate President John Cullerton, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were all working with him and against Madigan (they weren’t). And then Thursday the governor went to the absurd length of claiming that Madigan’s own members were on Rauner’s side when it comes to “reform.”
In reality, many of Madigan’s Democratic members would like to vote for some reforms to help the economy, just not the harsh anti-union reforms the governor wants.
This overtime session has been very much like a political campaign, with constantly dueling versions of reality.
Hey, wait. That’s the succinct analysis I was originally looking for. Sorry it took so long.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.