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State leaders still talking, but core positions unchanged in latest meeting

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By Mark Fitton

Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — A meeting of the governor and four legislative leaders in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon yielded some mild optimism and word that more talks — including among governor’s and legislative staff — are planned for the near future.

But the Republican governor and the Democrats who lead supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly still seem far apart on their core positions.

“This was a good meeting,” House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said after the session in the governor’s offices at the James R. Thompson Center.

But the speaker also said there were no breakthroughs: “We all know from experience that when you get into a budget impasse of this nature that it’s a bunch of small steps, there’s not going to be any big leaps to success.”

Before the meeting, Rauner said that while he’s not seeking statewide right-to-work legislation, he’s still strongly behind his “Illinois Turnaround” agenda, including local choice on what must be included in collective bargaining, the implementation of prevailing wages and allowances for outside contracting.

“Let each community decide for themselves with their own schools, their own city governments (and) their own county governments how the negations should begin,” Rauner said.

“Let’s not force the communities to beg Springfield for the changes; let each community decide for themselves,” he said.

Madigan indicated Democrats aren’t about to rush to entirely rewrite collective bargaining law in Illinois, nor do they intend to entirely revise the state worker’s compensation program.

“I think that there’s a pathway to a solution, but there’s got to be a recognition that in America the government is not involved in the lowering of wages and the standards of living for middle class families,” the speaker said.

“That is not the history of America since 1933, and that’s what’s being proposed in the governor’s agenda,” Madigan said.

Republicans don’t see it that way. They contend Democratic policy of the last dozen to 20 years has pushed jobs from Illinois and is harming, not helping, the middle class of the Prairie State.

“They (Democrats) need to look at their own record and they need to look in the mirror at what they’ve done to Illinois,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.

“We (the GOP) want to help the middle class in Illinois; the middle class has not been helped in the past 20 years.”

The Speaker of the House also didn’t show any love for Rauner’s call to put questions on constitutional amendments regarding term limits and legislative redistricting on the November ballots.

Madigan said both items were discussed in the meeting and added, “I support term limits as administered by the voters,” repeating his position that voters already control a politician’s tenure by their decisions at the polls.

And, he reiterated, “Those are Republican campaign issues for November of 2016, (and) … I really don’t think that November of 2016 campaign issues have a place in the budget impasse.”

Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont disagree.

“Give us an up or down vote, that’s all he (the governor) is asking for,” said Durkin. “He’s not asking the speaker or the Senate president to put votes on the bill, he just wants a fair vote in both chambers.”

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, didn’t address reporters after the meeting.

But the other leaders said all wasn’t gloom and doom, and they described a frank yet cordial atmosphere and said a framework for more talks — including on pension reform — is getting sketched out. Meetings of staffs are being planned, and the five top officials plan to meet again next week.

“If you want to grade the meeting good or bad, this was good,” said Madigan. “If you want to say was there progress or no progress, there was progress. Again, this is only going to happen in small steps.”

“I guess you could say maybe there’s the beginning of some engagement, which is definitely a positive,” said Radogno.

Durkin said there’s also an understanding that Illinois’ school aid formula needs a revamp, but that won’t happen until there’s a resolution to the budget impasse.

Illinois is in the sixth month of fiscal year 2016 without a full budget as the GOP and Democrats remain at loggerheads. Meanwhile, the state is spending at clip that could put it roughly $5 billion into the red as it funds primary and secondary education, satisfies its debt service and pays for items demanded by court orders, consent decrees and in continuing appropriations.

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