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Battle For The Future Of Illinois

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois' legislative session was supposed to be over by now. The schedule published months ago marked Sunday, May 31st as the adjournment date. Legislators typically don't return to Springfield until the fall. Instead, members of the General Assembly will be back beginning Thursday for a "continuous" summer session.Both sides of a divided state government are gearing up for political combat, and trying to win over the middle class.

The tense political atmosphere in Springfield is set to get even more contentious. Gov. Bruce Rauner's upfront -- he says it's going to get rough, but he's not giving up.

"Let us be all be crystal clear what's going on here. This is a battle for the future of Illinois," he said Sunday evening.

He's got $20 million dollars (and there's sure to be more where that came from) sitting in his campaign fund to wage that fight.

It's widely expected a lot of that will soon be used to begin a deluge of ads, though Rauner refused to talk about it despite several direct questions.

"I'm not going to speculate about actions on those issues in the future," he said. "We do need to get our message out to the people."

President of the Senate John Cullerton says at a meeting last week, Rauner warned that it was coming (or maybe "threatened" is the better word). The ads would be made to demonize Cullerton and his counterpart in the House, Speaker Michael Madigan. Last night, Rauner instead used his bully pulpit to blame the two Democrats for a "stunningly disappointing" session.

"The middle class is suffering under the politics of Speaker Madigan and Pres. Cullerton and they control a huge fraction of the legislators here in the General Assembly," the governor said. "They do their bidding. Speaker Madigan pulls the strings and so many legislators dance to his tune."

In practically in the same breath, Rauner said he would continue to negotiate in good faith with them, however both the Speaker and the President have been vocal that such criticism won't help reach a compromise.

"This is what's so fundamentally wrong with this," Cullerton said. "This should not be personal. We're elected officials, we're here trying to do the right thing. We have different opinions so you sit down and you try to reach a compromise. You don't do it through a continuation of the campaign. He won the campaign but now he's got to govern."

(Democrats likewise say they will be cooperative, even while criticizing the governor, his ideas and methods).

Democrats say the focus should have been on Illinois' immediate financial situation, which is at a pivotal point. The rollback of the state income tax at the start of the year created a huge budget hole. They've passed a spending plan that contains cuts, but marginal ones in comparison to the billions of dollars the governor proposed. Madigan and other Democrats say Illinois needs to come up with new revenue - like a tax increase - to cover what's likely to be a $4 billion deficit.

"The spending plan that I support would help and protect middle class families by supporting local schools, local police, local roads and streets," Madigan said Sunday morning on WGN-Radio's "The Sunday Spin" show.

But Democrats say the governor is holding that plan hostage. Rauner says he will consider a tax hike if he gets his way on his agenda. That started out with a focus on measures to weaken unions, like a call for right-to-work zones. He's moved away from that, for now. Instead, on Sunday he outlined his demand for five items: term limits, changing how legislative districts are drawn, a freeze on local property taxes, easing businesses' liability in civil lawsuits, and changing rules for compensating injured workers. Republicans say these are fundamental changes that would draw jobs to Illinois. But so far, the legislature has rejected these ideas.

Madigan says it's because they'll have a different result: to "reduce wages and the standard of living of middle class families, it would force injured workers to go on welfare or go to the emergency room, and it would take the budget making and the elimination of the deficit to the extreme."

The Speaker says the answer to all of these issues lies in moderation. After five months of session, though, they weren't able to reach a deal. And on May 31 -- when it was all supposed to be over -- it's sounds like instead, both sides are prepared to escalate.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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