Jim Dey: Rauner/Madigan truce expires after election

Jim Dey: Rauner/Madigan truce expires after election

The passage of a temporary state budget and a full-year spending plan for K-12 schools wasn't much of a win, but Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan couldn't resist taking a victory lap anyway.

"We have seen with previous successful budget efforts that we can come together, achieve compromise and pass a budget when the governor's demands relative to his personal agenda that hurts families are dropped. That happened again today," Madigan said.

Madigan usually measures his words more carefully. But in this case, the calculated insult he directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner, with whom he's fought for the past year, was off key. Indeed, it was a classic half-truth.

Madigan might enjoying burnishing his image as the all-powerful pol who likes nothing better than to put governors — both Democrats and Republicans — in their places. But that's not what happened here.

Sure, Rauner most certainly did set aside his reform agenda, aimed at spurring Illinois' moribund economy, to help pass full funding for K-12 schools and a stopgap spending measure for the rest of state government. Like members of the Illinois House and Senate members, he had no interest in being tarred and feathered by parents enraged over the prospect of schools not opening in the fall.

But it takes two to call a truce. Just as Rauner agreed, for the time being, not to press his proposals for structural reform, Madigan agreed, for the time being, to abandon his request for higher taxes.

What they set aside in June, they'll take up again after the November election.

That's why state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican, said that "January is going to be huge."

"There is no way around that," said Rose, noting that the struggle between the Republican governor and the Democratic speaker will be on full display — again — in a matter of months.

It would be amazing if, after all they've been through, either man had any use for the other. So it's no surprise that neither does.

Not long after Madigan took his shot at Rauner, the governor went out of his way not to thank Madigan for his help in achieving the spending settlement. He praised Senate President John Cullerton and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, both Democrats, but pointedly omitted Madigan's name. Rauner also went out of his way to acknowledge that whatever it was that he and legislators achieved is not enough.

"This is not a solution to our long-term challenges," he said.

Rauner and Madigan disagree on most things related to government. It's not even clear that Madigan recognizes that Illinois faces long-term challenges, since the only thing he wants to do is raise taxes to generate more revenue.

In June 2015, Madigan oversaw the passage of a 2015-16 budget with a $4 billion to $5 billion deficit. Rauner promptly vetoed it, and spent the past year trying to come up with a spending and legislative package aimed at moving Illinois out of its current failed state.

Last month, Madigan passed another deficit budget, this one for the 2016-17 fiscal year that began Friday. The House-backed measure had a $7 billion deficit and was so out of whack the Democratic Senate rejected it out of hand. The spending plan never made it to the governor's desk.

Aimed at papering over the failure to pass a budget for the second consecutive year, Thursday's spending package partially funded vital programs, like public universities and social services, that had been denied appropriations and signed off on full funding for K-12.

But that still leaves the serious work of a permanent budget undone — in other words, Madigan's tax hikes and Rauner's structural reforms.

Madigan has refused to entertain any of Rauner's reform measures, stating they would hurt middle-class families, send workers to emergency rooms and put people on welfare.

What is Rauner seeking that causes Madigan such concern?

The governor recently told the Chicago Tribune that, in exchange for accepting Madigan's tax hikes, he will be satisfied with three proposals:

— Modifications to the workers' compensation law that affect the issue of causation.

— Legislation that allows local governmental entities more flexibility in union negotiations and could lead to cost reductions.

— Public pension reform legislation. Rauner has indicated that he'll back legislation introduced by Cullerton.

They are hardly earth-shattering, even if they do hit some of Madigan's biggest campaign donors — trial lawyers and labor unions — in the wallet.

Both men are hoping the November elections will change the dynamics of their coming conflict. In the meantime, they'll each keep going for the other's throat.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com.

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