Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday April 11th, 2016, 4:31pm

Illinois Lawmakers: Rank-And-File Legislators Key To Breaking Budget Impasse

State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle discussed the Illinois budget stalemate Monday, suggesting that rank-and-file legislators are key to breaking the monthslong impasse.

Four Democratic and four Republican state lawmakers participated in the talk, co-hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, CFA Society Chicago and Truth in Accounting.

One panelist was Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley), who said rank-and-file lawmakers have been engaged in state budget talks.

"We've been working together. We've been actually talking in smaller groups and we've been talking in private. So saying what we've been offering, I think, would be a break in that confidence," Pritchard said at the event, held at the Union League Club of Chicago. "But the important point is that legislators do feel the pressure that you're putting on, and we are talking. We are looking for where there's compromise. And I think we're gonna see the fruits of that shortly."

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders have yet to agree on a 2016 fiscal year budget, which should have taken effect July 1.

At the center of the impasse is the governor's controversial anti-union, pro-business policy agenda, items from which Rauner wants approved as part of a budget deal. Democrats, who control both legislative chambers, want a budget with a mix of cuts and new revenue. They fiercely oppose Rauner's proposals that would weaken unions and say other items on the governor's so-called "turnaround agenda" should be considered separate from the budget.

For their part, Republicans have expressed a willingness to support revenue options if Rauner's proposed "structural reforms" aimed at improving the state's economy are adopted. Changes to the state's workers' compensation and procurement systems are among the economic and governmental reforms Democrats and Republicans could find some common ground, lawmakers said. 

Pritchard said it is important for lawmakers to "come together and look at those areas of agreement and move ideas forward" to Rauner and the legislative leaders. He said he's hopeful that "we'll find some movement" on the budget through that approach. 

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) agreed with Pritchard.

"It's gonna take the rank-and-file (legislators) coming together and pushing something, hopefully, to the leaders for them to get agreement on," she said. "I think that is a strategy that can be effective, and certainly we'll continue to be working on that and trying to get there."

Pritchard had a message for his fellow lawmakers. 

"We as legislators have to be honest and just say, 'I'm not looking for tenure. I want to look for solutions,' and say the hard things that have to be said and take the consequences as they come," Pritchard said. "There's been a lot of stereotypes painted that people are just doing this so they can get re-elected. I think we have to come out and say, 'I don't care if I'm re-elected. I want a solution, and I want the leadership to move forward towards that solution.'"

Rauner, meanwhile, penned an op-ed last week in which he pressed lawmakers to hash out a budget agreement. 

"Let's start negotiations immediately -- whenever, wherever -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- on a bipartisan, balanced budget with a mix of reforms, cost reductions and revenue," Rauner wrote. 

Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) should agree to meet with the governor. 

Rauner has "been asking the speaker to come to a meeting for weeks and hasn't gotten an answer," Murphy said. "You gotta go to the meeting, Mr. Speaker."

"The truth of the matter is, if this were left to the Senate Democrats and the governor, and, frankly, a lot of rank-and-file House Democrats, (a budget) would have been done last spring, so it's time for him to engage," Murphy said of Madigan. "The guy's gotta get in the room, and if you want to get him in the room, you gotta get his members to tell him to get in the room, and that's how it changes."

But Rep. William "Will" Davis (D-Hazel Crest) raised questions about Rauner's negotiating approach. 

"The governor's position of saying, you know, 'You gotta do it this way or no way,' how ... do you begin to have a conversation around that?" the south suburban legislator said.

Davis agreed that Madigan should meet with Rauner about the budget: "But if the meeting is going to be, 'Here it is. Take it or leave it,' OK then what's the point of going to the meeting?"

Another topic covered at Monday's event was the 2011 temporary income tax hike, which ended in January 2015.

Lawmakers sided against the idea of implementing another temporary tax increase.

"Do I think now we should do a temporary tax increase? Probably not," Steans said. "I think whatever solution we do, it needs to show that we have stability and certainty in the future."

Pritchard said a temporary tax hike would not help the state's "public image."

"I think the reason we have a lot of (people leaving the state) is just the ... public image, if you will, of Illinois. We got to do something that's going to change that image, and we don't do it with a temporary income tax," he said. "We got a lot of big problems facing us, but we don't keep kicking the can down the road with temporary increases."

Also on the panel were state Reps. Patricia Bellock (R-Westmont), Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and Thomas "Tom" Morrison (R-Palatine).


What's so complicated about passing a balanced budget?

Either raise taxes or cut spending.  Or do a little of both.

But quit overspending lake they've been doing for so many years.

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