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Lawmakers Turned Around On The Turnaround, With One Week To Go

Illinois State Capitol

Legislators' return to Springfield Wednesday failed to result in real movement toward a state budget agreement, with just one week remaining before the state loses its spending authority.

To hear House Speaker Michael Madigan tell it, Democrats are trying.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has given five conditions that must be met before he'll consider a tax hike that could balance the budget. 

Rauner, a Republican, says Illinois needs big changes, and he won't support asking taxpayers for more money without them.

Madigan says the governor's stance "takes this work to reduce the budget deficit to the extreme, takes it away from the moderation that we will need in order to solve the budget deficit, and moves away from a requirement that everybody be reasonable in this process."

Even so, he says the House is taking Rauner seriously: like passing the governor's plan to partially privatize the state's Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, albeit with Democratic touches, like a three-year sunset. Democrats say after ethical stumbles in states with similar set-ups, that’s a prudent safeguard.

The latest on DCEO

The movement could be seen as a sign of compromise, but instead the governor's office says the Madigan refused to negotiate in good faith on the DCEO concept, and that Madigan is stuck on the status quo. The short opportunity is seen as too short to make the new agency viable.

Rauner also wants a freeze on property taxes combined with a provision he says will save local governments money by pardoning them from having to pay the prevailing wage.

But the House rejected that plan -- again. It’s not just because of Democrats, who say that’d weaken unions. Republicans didn’t go along with it.

"For the fifth time, the Rauner Republicans in the House were given an opportunity to vote for a real estate tax freeze. And for the fifth time, Rauner Republicans declined to take advantage of that opportunity to vote for a real estate tax freeze," Madigan said.

However, Republican Representatives say Madigan is trying to fake them out with votes staged for political games. Though Democrats maintain it's a carbon-copy of Rauner's proposal, Republican legislators are suspicious as the measure was sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.

A hold on property tax rates raises its own implications, though it's a winner with voters. Property taxes make up the bulk of local school funding. A freeze could leave districts short, or otherwise pinch local governments. Mayors say that would be exacerbated if the governor gets his way and a separate stream of local funding gets slashed. Talks on a compromise are ongoing, and could involve -- at Senate President John Cullerton's behest -- a change in how the state distributes money to schools.

After all of the previous attempts, the property tax vote failing in the House was no surprise.

A more shocking failure came when the House killed a plan that had appeared to be on the fast track for passage. It would have given Chicago Public Schools a temporary reprieve from having to pay a more than $600 million pension bill due at the end of this month. Its defeat led to partisan finger-pointing, with Gov. Rauner's spokesman issuing a statement accusing the Speaker of killing the bill.

"This is not a non-contentious bill," Madigan said in response. "There's controversy as part of this bill. And yes, there's an agreement in principle among the mayor and the governor and the legislative leaders, but it needs some work. And to be issuing extreme press statements in the middle of the consideration of the bill is not helpful."

Meanwhile, the Senate spent its time discussing a minimum wage hike and whether to require companies to pay workers for at least seven sick days, both issues most Democrats say will help the middle class, but which Republicans say will hurt the business climate. Neither issue came up for a vote.

Session resumes next week, on the final day of the state's current fiscal year.

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