Much attention is being focused on a Dec. 1 sit-down between Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders as Illinois approaches the five-month mark without a state budget.
But there are other dates approaching that may be far more important to hopes for a deal on a spending plan, since getting there has as much to do with political timing as getting everyone in the same room or agreeing on what and how much to fund.
For politicians, the calendar often dictates motivations. And considerations such as the primary election in March and whether they will face opposition could be as big a factor as anything in getting a deal before spring.
Among the tough votes lawmakers may have to cast are for a likely tax increase to help a close a revenue gap or for pieces of a pro-business agenda the Republican governor is pushing to weaken labor unions’ bargaining power. Democrats say his proposals would hurt working families and shouldn’t factor into talks over how to close a multibillion-dollar budget hole; Rauner says they’re necessary to improve Illinois’ economy.
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Next week’s meeting is expected to bring Rauner together with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Democrats, and GOP leaders Rep. Jim Durkin and Sen. Christine Radogno for the first time since the fiscal year began.
Here’s a look at other key dates in the budget battle:
Nov. 30: Nominating petition deadline
One of the biggest calculations for legislators will be determining who will vote “yes” on a deal that could include unpopular items such as a tax increase.
Rauner’s roughly $20 million political fund and a new political action committee that says it has millions to spend against Democrats in the March primaries have added a new level of concern for candidates this year, even for lawmakers in what are considered “safe” Democratic or Republican districts.
While all seats in the Illinois House and about two-thirds of state senate districts will be on the 2016 ballot, only some sitting lawmakers will face challenges come March.
Starting Monday, candidates may begin filing their nominating petitions with the state board of elections. The deadline to file is Nov. 30.
That’s important because it will give legislators up for re-election a sense of whether they can or should risk their political neck by taking a tough vote on a budget deal before the primary.
Jan. 1: Simple majority
The Illinois Constitution says that after May 31, any bill approved by the Legislature requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers, rather than a simple majority, to take effect prior to July 1 of the next year.
That means that if the Legislature wants to pass a budget before the end of 2015, it would take 71 “yes” votes in the House and 36 in the Senate. If they wait until January, they need 60 in the House and 30 in the Senate — a far easier threshold.
Rauner has said he’s “cautiously optimistic that maybe in January we’ll get something done.”
The rookie governor also has suggested it’s Democrats who are putting off a deal because they don’t want to take a “tough” vote. Asked about Rauner’s comments, Cullerton said the governor must have “misspoke.”
“Even if we had an agreement we couldn’t vote on anything until January,” he said. “That’s just clinical.”
March 15: Primary election
It’s possible some lawmakers will want to wait until after the March 15 primary before casting a vote on a budget package. It’s also possible that the leaders still won’t have agreed on a plan by then.
Regardless, there will be even more pressure on lawmakers to get something done.
Among the issues expected to boil over into the 2016 session are universities and community colleges that may be forced to make drastic cuts, including not offering grants to students who need help paying tuition. And without help it’s been seeking from the state, Chicago Public Schools may have to lay off hundreds of teachers. The teachers union already has said it will be willing to strike.
Of course, lawmakers already are hearing horror stories about the impact of the budget standoff, and, so far, it hasn’t brought much action.
“We’re still a long way away from a final resolution,” Madigan said.