Governor Bruce Rauner has hit a brick wall attempting to convince House Speaker Michael Madigan to come to the negotiating table to talk about ending the long governmental impasse and then working out a budget deal. So after holding numerous public appearances to demand a sit-down, Rauner shifted gears last week when the two Republican legislative leaders trotted out a new spending plan to provide $1.3 billion to fund human services and other programs.
The proposal would partly be funded with some pension reforms that Republicans claim will save $780 million. The reforms include some accounting changes and pushing off pension costs to local schools and to higher-education institutions for salaries above $180,000 a year. But there are relatively few employees making more than $180K a year, and the $780 million is about a third of the state’s annual “normal costs” for pensions, so it seems somewhat difficult to believe that these savings are actually as high as billed.
And even if the money is real, the $1.3-billion GOP proposal is significantly smaller than either appropriations bill passed by the legislature’s Democratic majorities. The Senate Democrats’ spending plan was pegged at about $3.8 billion, with half of that ($1.9 billion) going to social services.
Still, the bill could very well generate some interest among rank-and-file Democrats worried about the implosion of the state’s social safety net as a possible next step in the negotiating process. For instance, the legislation appropriates more than $10 million for the Adult Redeploy program, which diverts nonviolent offenders from prison terms. That money would come from the General Revenue Fund, but the legislation also uses money from special state funds to pay for programs popular with Democrats that aren’t currently being funded by the state, like homeless-youth services.
By far, however, the most intriguing aspect of the Republican bill is what’s not in it – at least not yet. None of Rauner’s usual anti-union “poison pills” is attached. The governor has demanded the passage of several reforms as a condition for talking about the budget, but none of those is overtly attached to this new Republican proposal.
The GOP legislation also gives the governor some spending-transfer authority within the budget, but it appears to be much more limited than earlier demands for near dictatorial control over moving around just about every state dollar as he saw fit.
And while the GOP appropriations bill might not actually be fully funded by its pension component, it certainly has more funding behind it than either Democratic plan out there right now. And still more funding could be found by using part of the Democrats’ proposal, which includes forgiving about $450 million in loans from special state funds (an idea that the governor had previously said he could probably live with).
The idea, it appears, is to present a far more “reasonable” GOP face than in the recent past – and put Madigan on defense both for hiding behind his incessant political games and for refusing to come to the bargaining table, thus allowing the state to crash and burn while waiting for the governor to cave.
An official close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel said last week that his boss and Rauner have regularly spoken with each other despite all the harsh public sniping between the two men. The governor, he said, claims that he wants to make a deal.
But Madigan just doesn’t believe that private talks with the governor will work because they obviously haven’t borne fruit since this crisis began in late May of last year, when the Democrats rammed through a hugely unbalanced budget that was then almost completely vetoed by Rauner.
I totally get the lack of trust the Democrats have in this governor. He has broken confidences, has broken his word, and has attempted to break their, um, stones by hurling insults for months. I also fully appreciate the tension that has built up on both sides during the past 14 months or so.
But it’s not like anybody’s doing anything else while we all wait around for Armageddon.
Private negotiations are obviously preferable to public negotiations, but private negotiations are off the table right now because Madigan says so. (And he has his reasons, some better than others.) So public negotiations are better than no negotiations at all, and we’ll have to take what we can get.
Hopefully, we’ll see a counter-offer from the Democrats soon.