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Can The Illinois Senate Negotiate A Budget Deal?

The Illinois Senate’s negotiations to end the state’s historic budget impasse appear to have fallen apart.

Democrats said talks ended when Gov. Bruce Rauner got involved, though Republican senators said negotiations should continue. Talks around the so-called “grand bargain,” a package of bills that must all be approved to take effect, were the only ongoing negotiations to end the 20-month stalemate. 

Here are key points about what went wrong -- and whether there’s any hope for a compromise. 

Negotiations fell apart without Republican support 

On Tuesday, most Senate Democrats and Republicans approved pieces of the grand bargain, including the addition of six casinos around Illinois, a law to make it easier to consolidate units of local government and a spending plan that would fund universities and social services. They didn’t debate the part of the plan that would raise the money to pay for those services. 

On Wednesday morning, Senate Democrats said they thought there was a deal to finish voting when they went into work. But by the afternoon, no Republican had voted on the bills except Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) who’s been credited as the person who came up with the idea of a Senate-negotiated grand bargain in the first place. 

Democrats blame Rauner 

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said one thing changed Wednesday: Rauner interjected himself into negotiations, effectively pulling Republican votes off the compromise.

“The governor’s got to realize that this is as good as it’s going to get,” Cullerton told reporters Wednesday. “Can we make some minor changes? Of course we can. We’ve been doing that a month with Senate Republicans, but he’s gotta grow up and get this solved. He’s the governor.”

Cullerton said one reason the negotiations fell apart was because Rauner wants a permanent property tax freeze. Cullerton argued school districts can’t afford to freeze their primary source of revenue, particularly poor districts.

Senate Democrats also accused Rauner of threatening Republicans who were on the verge of voting in favor of the grand bargain.

But Republicans say negotiations should continue

Republicans said it’s ridiculous to suggest that Rauner threatened them. The governor’s office also denied the Democrats’ allegation. 

Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) said negotiations could continue.

“It’s not as if anyone’s walking away or the governor’s been heavy-handed with us,” McConnaughay said. “We know what we need to get for the districts that we represent and we’re working with our leader and with Cullerton and the Democrats to resolve those differences. That’s what the give and take of this process is all about.”

So is the whole deal is off? 

Democrats were visibly angry after they adjourned without taking any votes on Wednesday. Democratic leaders said they believe Rauner doesn’t want a deal. 

That leaves the future of negotiations between Senate Democrats and Republicans up in the air. 

“If we cannot get it out of the Senate, then we are literally running down the clock and admitting that it’s okay with people to not have a budget until 2018 and that is just unconscionable,” said Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) who had been negotiating a bill with Republicans to raise certain taxes.

One option Democrats mentioned was to start advancing their own legislation without Republicans. But they acknowledged that would be vetoed by Rauner. 

That said, both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge the state’s deficit grows every day there is no full budget. The state’s backlog of bills is approaching $12 billion. Cullerton’s projections estimate that number will grow to $24 billion by the 2018 election, which puts the state’s ability to pay even court-mandated services, such as Medicaid and foster care, in question.

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