Hope for grand bargain dissipates in state Senate


Source: Anthony Souffle (Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks in Springfield on Aug. 17. Senate Democrats accused Rauner of interfering in the “grand bargain” bills voting this week.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

Republican support for a package of “grand bargain” bills in the Illinois Senate unexpectedly dissipated this week after alleged interference from the governor’s office.

Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said Wednesday that planned voting on the package of bills was postponed after he was told several Republican lawmakers were planning on voting down several of the bills included in the package. The grand bargain was negotiated by Cullerton and Senate minority leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and has been working its way through the Senate since the new General Assembly was sworn in last month.

The bills include measures to raise income taxes, reform pensions and consolidate local governments in an attempt to alleviate the state budget impasse, which has been ongoing for nearly two years. A stopgap spending bill passed in June 2016 ran out on Jan. 1, cutting off funding for some state and social services.

The grand bargain received hesitant bipartisan support and apparent encouragement from Gov. Bruce Rauner, who lauded senators for their work on it during his annual budget address earlier this month.

The bills were designed to not go into effect lest all of them passed. On Tuesday, several bills included in the package were passed, except a pension reform bill which failed to get a majority of votes but was held for later decision.

Cullerton said Wednesday that Radogno warned him several Republican senators were advised by the governor’s office to vote no on several of the measures in the package.

“This has been a bipartisan venture, and it’s going to take support from both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation,” Cullerton said Wednesday. “Unfortunately I’ve been informed that the governor has decided to interject himself in this process and doesn’t want this approved in this form.”

Cullerton said he was still committed to working the plan through the Senate. Radogno remained hopeful about the plan, calling it the “most frustrating but rewarding experience” in her time as a legislator.

“Our state is suffering so badly right now, and I know how many of us in this chamber — I think almost without exception — want us to get the budget together so we can move forward,” she said. “There is no question in my mind that we are going to bring this thing in for a landing.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Cullerton expressed disappointment with the turn of events. He called the package “essential” to the governor’s budget plan, which accounts for a millions-dollar deficit by reasoning the grand bargain plan will save the state money.

Cullerton said he hadn’t yet talked to Rauner, but that the next move was the governor’s.

“The compromise is there, the governor has got to realize this is as good as it’s going to get,” he said. “He’s got to grow up and get this solved; he’s the governor.”

Cullerton said the package of bills was a “very fair” compromise and called on the governor to voice his concerns.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the governor said they encourage senators “to keep working toward a good deal for taxpayers.”

“We appreciate the hard work of the Senate in trying to pass a bipartisan agreement that can become law,” she said in the statement. “Some progress has been made, but more work is needed to achieve a good deal for taxpayers.”

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Twitter: @noracshelly