After what happened last week it’s more clear than ever that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has no fear of what Gov. Rauner could do to his members this fall. And Madigan has even less fear of what his members could do to him.
As you certainly know by now, Madigan lumped together a $40 billion appropriations plan with what the governor’s budget office says is a $7.5 billion hole in it. The budget office claims the bill would require a 5.5 percent personal income tax rate to sustain and the state comptroller estimates would create $15 billion in backlogged bills and an 8-9 month payment delay.
Madigan’s move was at least partially designed to put Republicans on the defense yet again this fall for voting against their local schools and colleges, facilities and various government programs.
Republican threats to tie Madigan’s “most unbalanced budget in Illinois history” around his members’ necks did not phase him. Madigan’s own polling reportedly shows Donald Trump doing pretty well everywhere except Cook County and that didn’t budge him. And just about all of Madigan’s most politically vulnerable members voted for the highly controversial legislation - another very clear signal that his political side doesn’t care a whit about Rauner’s threats to retaliate.
Yes, the Republicans have their “Bad King Madigan” bogeyman, the Democrats concede, and the Republicans used it again last week in tens of thousands of robocalls targeted at seven House Democratic incumbents. The calls claimed that the members backed “Speaker Mike Madigan’s job-crushing, $1,000 tax hike on Illinois families,” which would also “increase Illinois’ debt by $7 billion and force record high income tax rates.”
The Republicans also released results of a statewide “flash poll” conducted last Thursday night which they claim validates their planned messaging against Madigan and the Democrats this fall. 74 percent of the 884 voters who responded to the Victory Phones poll said they opposed “a budget that would spend $7.2 billion more than what state takes in and force a 47 percent tax increase on all Illinoisans.” Another 57 percent said they opposed a “state budget that includes a half billion dollar Chicago Public School bailout.” 71 percent said “rank-and-file Democrats should break with the Speaker and work with the Governor to balance the budget even if it means compromising on issues favored by labor unions.” And 61 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for a legislator who “voted for a budget with a $7 billion deficit that would force income tax rates over 5.5 percent.”
To the Republicans, those are slam-dunk issues that will resonate strongly with voters. The Democrats, they say, simply don’t understand the public’s mood. They believe they have the Democrats exactly where they want them and that Madigan has ironically put them in that position by passing the unbalanced budget and refusing to negotiate on the governor’s economic reforms that Rauner claims will help revitalize the state’s economy.
But Madigan’s side points to Rauner’s ever-tanking poll ratings as proof they can use him against Republican candidates, and they’ll toss in Donald Trump wherever the presidential candidate is unpopular.
And while voters always say they want a balanced budget, they almost always recoil when told what that would actually entail. Details of the $7.5 billion in cuts which “the Trump/Rauner Republicans demanded” via the governor’s expected veto will make for some grisly campaign advertisements. The Senate Democrats did pretty much just that to the Republicans during the last presidential campaign cycle and picked up seats despite raising the income tax by 67 percent - which is a big reason why the governor has twice now refused to submit a truly balanced budget. Once the Republicans vote against overriding Rauner’s budget veto for the second year in a row, they’ll be on the record for huge cuts.
The governor has said for over a year that Madigan’s Democrats privately tell him they’re ready to work with him. But there’s little evidence that they’ll work with Rauner at the expense of crossing Madigan. Just the opposite, in fact. They could’ve killed that budget bill and changed the course of Illinois history by forcing Madigan to the bargaining table, but they stuck with their guy.
Madigan was in a good mood Thursday night as he dined with some of his members. Gov. Rauner was also said to be at peace. Now that an all-out political war is all but certain, they can come to terms with it and steel themselves for the future.