Top Illinois House Democrats publicly asked Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday why he hasn’t responded to their offer to negotiate his terms for a budget breakthrough before the state enters a third consecutive year without an annual spending blueprint.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, at a news conference with Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, and other Democratic leaders in the House, said Democrats are willing to compromise with the governor on his demands for cost restrictions on the workers’ compensation system and for a property tax freeze. But the Democrats have additional “non-budget” items they also want on the table with just two weeks remaining before the scheduled end of the legislative session.
The items include a health care measure that protects insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, loophole closures to ensure all corporations pay at least a minimum income tax, and other economic plans to, as Currie put it, “lift up the middle class.”
“If the governor wishes to move the budget process along, he will pick up the phone and call Leader Currie and the four of us will go scurrying to the second floor (to the governor’s office) to have whatever meetings the governor wishes to have,” said Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang of Skokie, who co-signed last week’s letter from Currie to Rauner, along with Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Turner of Chicago and Assistant Majority Leader Jay Hoffman of Collinsville.
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Rauner took office in 2015 with a “turnaround agenda” designed to boost business, in part, by cutting back on the compensation system for injured workers and permanently freezing property taxes. Democrats have for years sought to focus on a multibillion-dollar deficit they say can only be handled by a tax increase.
Rauner was dismissive when asked later why he hadn’t answered the Democrats’ overture. He claimed Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has attempted to scuttle ongoing talks in the Senate to reach a “grand bargain” that raises taxes and addresses Rauner’s pet issues. The lack of agreement has kept the Prairie State from adopting an annual budget since 2014.
“House Democrats under Speaker Madigan have shown really no good-faith willingness to engage in negotiations for true change, true reforms to our system,” Rauner said. “My sense is this is probably a last-minute attempt to create a distraction and derail the senators who seem to be making progress and coming close to an agreement.”
In response to Currie’s criticism, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin’s office released a letter written last week in which the Western Springs Republican pledged cooperation, but said “both sides must respect each other’s priorities.”
Currie said, “House Democrats believe the budget crisis demands immediate action, and it is our hope to show Gov. Rauner that we stand ready to work with him. We plan to seek common ground with the governor on his proposals, and present him with items we believe should be part of the bargaining in order to encourage economic growth while lifting up the middle class.”
Democrats said they would also try to work with the governor to lower the overall corporate income tax while at the same time close “corporate loopholes that allow large businesses to pay nothing in taxes.”
Republicans said Democrats are playing political games.
At a press conference Tuesday, Reps. Patricia Bellock, R-Westmont; Tom Demmer, R-Rochelle; and Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, responded to the Democrats’ anticipated announcement.
“Here we are, 15 days away from the May 31st adjournment, and House Democrats have reverted to the old playbook we’ve seen from them time and time again,” Demmer said.
“We need to call this what it is,” he added. “It’s the House Democrats running out the clock on the legislative session, appearing to engage, only to pull back at the last minute and offer simply rehashed proposals in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion that ignores the input from House Republicans.”