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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 12:18 am

A Statehouse divided

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
The Illinois Senate had been scheduled to return to Springfield on Oct. 6 after not being in session since Sept. 9. But last week the Senate President postponed session until Oct. 20.

The reason is pretty straightforward.

The Senate has overridden several gubernatorial vetoes. It’s pretty easy for the majority party because the chamber has 39 Democrats, three more than the three-fifths required to override a veto.

The House has 71 Democrats, the exact number of votes required to overturn a veto in that chamber. So, while the Senate Democrats can be missing a few people or have some folks who don’t want to go along, they can still override the governor on partisan votes. But the House Democrats need every member in town and they all need to be voting the same way for that chamber to succeed.

Because of that tight margin, and because the Republicans have marched in lock step with their party’s governor, the House has only overridden one veto this entire year: the Heroin Crisis Act.

And the House was only able to override that bill because Gov. Bruce Rauner allowed House Republicans to vote against his amendatory veto, which stripped out state Medicaid funding for heroin addiction treatment. Gov. Rauner now gets to portray himself as fiscally conservative, while the Republicans got to do the right thing and make the much-needed criminal justice reform legislation an actual law.

To date, the governor and his staff have successfully fought off 62 override attempts, mainly in the House.

So much for Speaker Madigan’s much-vaunted veto-proof House majority.

And because of this House failure, there are currently no vetoes requiring Senate action during the constitutionally mandated 15 calendar-day period after successful House action. And since the legislative leaders aren’t meeting with the governor and no other visible progress is being made to end the months-long stalemate, there really wasn’t much sense in coming back to town.

Just to show you how divided the Statehouse is right now, the governor used his amendatory veto powers on 20 bills, but the Democrats adamantly refused to accept a single one of those changes he made.

The Democrats even ignored a plea from the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws to accept the governor’s amendatory veto of House Bill 218, which vastly reduced penalties for pot possession.

The governor tweaked the marijuana legislation to increase some of the penalties, but Illinois NORML said those changes were acceptable, and called his veto “a very easy win” for proponents.

The bill only received 62 votes in the House when it passed in April, so there was no way to override the governor. But instead of just accepting his changes, the legislation was allowed to die. Months of hard work came to diddly squat.

The House Speaker is traditionally loathe to accept amendatory vetoes as a way of discouraging the governor (any governor) from using that broad power, which was long ago upheld by the courts. Rauner, for his part, is proving to be just as stubborn.

And the end result is nothing happens.

We have a whole lot of nothing going on these days. For instance, a minor fuss was made recently at the Statehouse when a City of Chicago honcho showed up to testify about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s property tax proposal without having actual written legislation to talk about.

But, in reality, that thing ain’t going anywhere.

So far, the governor is opposed to the plan, which would exempt homeowners with houses appraised at $250,000 or less from Emanuel’s massive property tax hike. The main burden would fall on commercial property owners and Gov. Rauner has said their opposition is valid and that everyone’s property taxes should be capped at current levels - despite Chicago’s horrific fiscal problems.

As long as Rauner remains opposed it’s highly unlikely that the House could pass such a bill. The House Democrats have yet to convince the Republicans to break with their party’s governor on anything, and they’re surely not going to do so over a vote for Chicago, and it’s doubtful that all Downstate and suburban Democrats will go along without some relief for their own taxpayers.

The city is simply going to have to find another way to solve its problem unless and until the governor and the legislative leaders work things out. Which may be never at the rate they’re going.

The Democrats can’t go around Rauner, they can’t go through him, they can’t go over him. But Rauner can’t get anything done without them. They all need to start facing reality here.

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

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