ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Governor Bruce Rauner unveiled his opening act in search of a Capitol Compromise the night before state lawmakers return for a 10-day special session Wednesday morning.
Standing on the second floor of the Old State Capitol, Rauner summoned the unifying powers of Abraham Lincoln, repeating the former president’s famous line, “a House divided against itself cannot stand.” Illinois remains deadlocked in the longest budget battle in state history.
The Rauner administration carefully timed Tuesday night’s delivery to sync up with the start of local news broadcasts, even directing him to approach the lectern promptly at 6:03 pm. Reporters were invited to attend the event, but were quarantined below Representative Hall in the first floor lobby, roped off from the stairway that led up to the backlit stage.
Rauner’s timely overture drew sharp criticism from Democrats who doubted the governor’s sincerity.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy scoffed at “a few minutes of empty remarks in an empty room.”
State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) derided the 3:20-long speech as “the worst infomercial in our state’s fiscal history.”
J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire Democrat running to replace Rauner in 2018, called the speech a “sham.”
“So this is Bruce Rauner’s idea of unity?” Pritzker asked. “Going into a room, putting a budget together with only Republicans, no compromise involved, coming out, putting the name ‘compromise’ on top of it and then presenting it?”
Pritzker’s campaign continues to hammer Rauner for the state’s budget woes in an all-out attempt to pin the fallout on him and sink his chances of reelection. Last month, Pritzker’s campaign launched a website which prominently features a 2015 quote from the governor during his first year in office: “Crisis creates opportunity. Crisis creates leverage to change.”
Crisis is upon us, and the leverage looms large. The state’s fiscal year calendar closes June 30. If lawmakers fail to reach a full budget by next Friday’s deadline, Comptroller Susana Mendoza warns the state will plunge into a “new phase of crisis” under “unmanageable financial strains.”
Mendoza, the state’s chief fiscal officer, has warned for weeks court ordered payments will soon outnumber the amount of available funds to make those payments.
State universities have seen their bond ratings downgraded to junk status. Drug rehab centers have shut their doors. Battered women’s shelters have turned abuse victims away. The Department of Transportation has warned it will be forced to suspend hundreds of road construction projects and lay off 23,000 workers next month without new revenue. Doctors have gone unpaid for so long, many are considering drastic reductions to their Medicaid population.
State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) filed a massive omnibus spending plan last week which includes a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts, similar to the plan Senate Democrats passed last month.
The $36.2 billion plan includes a compromise offer on the level of state funding to the highly controversial Chicago Public Schools pension costs. Democrats have said this compromise offer came too late. But that argument, however valid, does little to soften the blow of beginning a third fiscal year without a budget.
Governor Rauner has twice stated he could sign this budget bill in its early form, but it has yet to see open debate on the Senate or House floors.
Rauner’s closing remarks called on lawmakers to imagine how history will record their legacy, predicting the brewing budget battle could “become one of the most important legislative sessions in Illinois history.”
Readers may little note, nor long remember what Abraham Lincoln said just seconds before he delivered that timeless “House divided” sentence in 1858; however, it bears a striking, if not awkward resemblance to Rauner’s 2015 comments.
“In my opinion, [slavery] will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.”
Lincoln’s prediction was true, though his 1858 nomination to run for the U.S. Senate ultimately failed. The crisis he predicted became the bloodiest war in American history. He prevailed, but it cost him, and the Union, dearly.
As Democrats and Republicans return to Springfield to pore over spreadsheets and debate deficits, one unrelenting question will challenge their collective conscience: Are the casualties of this crisis piled high enough to justify the painful surrender of political compromise?