The increasingly nasty feud between Gov. Bruce Rauner and majority Democrats is about to spill from the Illinois statehouse to voters’ mailboxes and televisions, as the rookie Republican unleashes a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against lawmakers he claims are intransigent over the state budget and his political agenda.
The entrenched, more experienced Democratic leaders — who say they were warned by Rauner of the coming campaign — began pushing back Sunday. Senate President John Cullerton said GOP lawmakers are being “lured away by the siren song of Gov. Rauner’s campaign cash,” hindering compromise.
“We find ourselves trying to work with a governor who continues to run campaigns rather than the state that elected him,” the Chicago Democrat said. “Rather than roll up your sleeves and work on solutions, he’s dictating demands and threatening those who defy him.”
Majority Democrats in the General Assembly approved a $36.3 billion spending plan they say preserves Rauner-proposed cuts to essential programs.
They acknowledge it’s $3 billion short on revenue and want Rauner to agree to a tax increase.
The Republican calls it “phony” and won’t talk taxes until Democrats consider big changes he wants, such as a property tax freeze and less-costly workers’ compensation insurance for employers, which he says are needed to make Illinois more competitive.
“The people of Illinois do not deserve to get a major tax hike forced on them without major structural reform,” Rauner said at a Friday news conference.
Democrats repeatedly shot down the governor’s measures during the spring legislative session that’s adjourning Sunday, saying they help corporate CEOs at the expense of the middle class.
Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan also say Rauner’s agenda shouldn’t be linked to budget negotiations.
The standoff amounts to a war of words right now, but if lawmakers don’t get a deal by mid-July, state employee paychecks would be disrupted.
If it drags into August, public schools won’t have the money they need to open their doors.
Both leaders say they’ll bring their members back to Springfield in the next 10 days — and lawmakers won’t be reimbursed for mileage or daily expenses.
It was unclear what business they’d conduct, but returning to the Capitol allows Democrats to blunt criticism from Rauner that they’re not interested negotiating.
Rauner, a multimillionaire who has more than $30 million in campaign bank accounts and easy access to much more, has acknowledged the coming media barrage but won’t describe it in detail.
Aides have signaled the main target will be Madigan, the longtime speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chairman.
Rauner is relying in part on a statewide poll his political team conducted this spring showing the governor enjoyed a public-approval rating much higher than Madigan’s.
As the spring session wound down, Rauner’s press office repeatedly called Madigan a roadblock to reform.
Madigan’s spokesman said it’s no sure thing the campaign will work.
“As the speaker has said, he’s been the target of Republican attacks for years,” Steve Brown said. “It’s nothing new.”
Madigan didn’t give his usual end-of-session speech before adjournment.
Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno defended Rauner’s approach, pointing out he’s already pulled key initiatives, including a plan allowing local communities to decide to make union membership voluntary.
After 12 years with complete Capitol control, Democrats can’t compromise, Radogno said.
“Democrats are used to having their way 100 percent,” she said. “It’s a different dynamic now.”
Before adjourning Sunday, the Legislature also approved a measure to lower Chicago’s payments to its police and fire pension plans for each of the next five years.
Republicans criticized it as irresponsible, but Democrats said it would help stabilize the funds and avoid a huge tax increase for Chicago residents.
Lawmakers also sent a measure to Rauner’s desk to allow hunting and trapping of bobcats.