Rauner-Madigan meeting is a start

In normal times, a 40-minute, late-April meeting to talk

about the budget between a governor and the House speaker would be so routine

that it would likely go unnoticed by pretty much everyone under the Statehouse

dome.

But these ain’t normal times.

A funded, full-year state budget has not passed during a

spring legislative session since 2013, almost exactly four years ago. We’ve had

partial-year or “stop-gap” budgets ever since.

And House Speaker Michael J. Madigan hasn’t formally met

with the governor since Dec. 6 of last year, about five months ago. Gov. Bruce

Rauner announced at the time there would be no more such meetings until the

Democrats were prepared to offer up a balanced budget with specific

reforms–something that the governor hasn’t done since, either.

So, it was definitely news when Speaker Madigan requested a

private, one-on-one sit-down with Gov. Rauner last week and then the two

actually met.

Speaker Madigan issued a statement saying that he had urged

the governor “to turn his focus to the budget.” Gov. Rauner’s office

then claimed that Madigan “hinted that he may be willing to enact a truly

balanced budget with changes that will help create jobs, properly fund our

schools and lower property taxes.”

Did they really make progress?

Well, we all know that the governor is prone to

exaggeration. He said repeatedly during the two-week spring break that the

grand bargain negotiations were close to being wrapped up. He even claimed at

one whistle stop that negotiations were going on between the two caucuses as he

spoke, with another scheduled for the following day. None of that was true.

The House Speaker has his own issues. He doesn’t say much

except to repeat what he’s been saying over and over for two years: The governor

should focus on passing a budget. Madigan himself, meanwhile, has been

completely focused on denying the governor any wins on Rauner’s terms. All wins

must instead be on Madigan’s terms.

Madigan’s spokesman reacted to the governor’s statement by pointing

to a bill the House passed last week to make workers’ compensation insurance

“more affordable.” That bill (HB 2622), however, sets up a state-run

workers’ comp insurance company to compete with existing private insurers.

Trial lawyers and unions insist that the hundreds of workers’ comp insurers in

Illinois are colluding to keep prices high. Hey, maybe such a thing could work.

But creating a government insurance company is not exactly the sort of reform

that our Milton Friedman-worshipping governor will ever accept as a

“win.”

Even so, I choose, for the millionth time, to look at the

bright side. At least they met. At least there was apparently a mention (no

matter how brief) of non-budgetary reforms. At least they didn’t full-on whack

each other after their meeting ended.

You gotta crawl before you can walk, so I’ll take it, no

matter how pathetically tiny or how temporary that microscopic bit of progress

may have been.

It’s been Madigan’s habit over the years to send the Senate

a budget and then announce that the House has completed its work. He did it

again last year and was ultimately stymied when the Senate refused to pass it.

But Madigan likely can’t even pass another budget bill out

of his own chamber this year, mainly because a group of 10 or so independent

Democratic women in his caucus are sick and tired of these impasse games. They

have enough votes to block him if they stick together.

And if the Senate ever does send Madigan its grand bargain,

those 10 House members and several more will demand that he take some action.

This impasse is killing them back in their districts, along with the blame that

the governor has so successfully pinned on Madigan with tens of millions of

dollars. A deal would take an enormous amount of heat off Madigan’s members;

and, by extension, him.

Rauner, for his part, is dangerously close to being

permanently labeled as a failed governor. Everything he’s tried has failed.

Sure, he can point to minor administrative successes, but he wasn’t elected to

save a few bucks on data processing. And constantly awarding himself an

“A” grade by pointing to these little administrative successes comes

close to making him look dangerously separated from the reality that his state

is rapidly going down the drain.

Both men have good reasons to find a way out of this mess.

But they’re also the most stubborn men on the planet. Let’s hope they keep

talking.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

CapitolFax.com.

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