Lawmakers not confident leadership meeting will be productive

SPRINGFIELD — For the first time in seven months, the small group of people who could bring an end to the state’s epic budget impasse are finally going to meet.

But, rank-and-file lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say Tuesday’s pow-wow with Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Legislature’s four leaders may be more of a public spectacle than a productive meeting.

“So there’s a meeting in Springfield. Great,” said state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton. “What I want to see is a common-sense plan from the governor to lead us out of this impasse that he created.”

“I do not have high hopes for the meeting,” added state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. “It’s going to be theater.”
The 2:30 p.m. meeting was conceived by a coalition of good-government groups as a way to jump-start budget negotiations.

Along with the first-year Republican governor, others attending the sit-down are House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago; Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago; House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs; and, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.

Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly have been deadlocked over a spending blueprint for months, leaving the state operating without a formal budget in place since the start of the fiscal year July 1.

The impasse has left social service agencies scrambling to stay open, universities without their state aid and towns and other organizations without access to the cash they rely on for services such as snowplowing and 911 emergency telephone service.

The vitriol between Rauner and the Democrats has been so toxic the leaders haven’t met as a group since May.
The groups had wanted the talks to be in public, but Rauner and the leaders agreed little would be accomplished in such a forum.

Tuesday’s session instead will start out with public statements by the five leaders. The plan then is for them to close off public access in order to hash out their differences behind closed doors, the way their predecessors have negotiated for decades.