House Speaker Michael Madigan was his usual self during the final week of the General Assembly’s spring session, passing bills to make one point or another without actually accomplishing anything.

Bills are routinely moved in the House for the sole purpose of creating TV ads or direct-mail pieces or newspaper headlines. Madigan’s only real ideology is maintaining his majority, and he doesn’t consider that to be a bad thing. And maintaining that majority has been inextricably tied for two long years with stopping Governor Bruce Rauner at every turn, despite Madigan’s repeated claims that he’s cooperating and that Rauner should just accept a win and move on.

Whatever else you can say about Madigan, he’s not wrong about that last part.

A new statewide poll finds that strong opposition to an income-tax hike to solve the state’s budget problems significantly eases when the tax increase is coupled with a property-tax freeze.

That’s important because Governor Bruce Rauner has insisted that he won’t approve any tax hikes or a budget without a four-year property-tax freeze. Democrats in the General Assembly, however, have resisted the governor’s freeze proposal. And the Senate Democrats last week went ahead and passed a budget with tax hikes but not Rauner’s freeze.

Democrats have been privately grumbling for a while now that Governor Bruce Rauner isn’t truly interested in good-faith negotiations on a balanced budget with economic reforms to end the two-and-a-half-year Statehouse stalemate.

But Senate President John Cullerton spent days and days negotiating the details of a four-year property-tax freeze with Rauner, only to have his spokesperson tell me last week that he hadn’t acceded to Rauner’s demand for a four-year freeze. So Rauner isn’t the only one to blame.

The thin-skinned Statehouse partisanship of the past two-plus years last week infected the annual fundraising gala of the Illinois Conference of Women Legislators (COWL).

COWL is a bipartisan organization that raises money every year to “assist mature women who wish to continue their undergraduate education,” according to its Web site. “The goal of the scholarship is to focus on deserving, qualified women whose educations were interrupted due to family concerns and economic problems,” the group says. Women who have shown “leadership promise through community service” are given preference.

Anyway, it’s a good organization and it’s one of two events that I never miss each year – the other one being the House-versus-Senate softball game. Both events allow legislators to do things together without partisan or leadership barriers. They help build relationships and trust. Plus, they’re both a lot of fun. And after two and a half years of watching politicians fight each other to a draw on a state budget and economic reforms, we all need the occasional good time.

Democratic candidates for Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy

Illinois has elected just two wealthy people to major statewide office in the past 20 years: former U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald and current Governor Bruce Rauner.

Both candidates won because they ran as firm, anti-establishment outsiders. Fitzgerald was best known as a state senator in the 1990s for railing against the elders who ran his Republican Party, including many who had been supplying the GOP with loads of money over the years and who’d used their positions to handsomely profit from state business. Rauner also ran against his party’s insiders when he launched his campaign, dismissing them as bought and paid for by Springfield’s special interests.

What establishment-party support both men did receive mostly came at the end of their general-election campaigns. Their personal finances, which allowed them to self-fund, kept them free of establishment taint, and that independence gave both of them credibility as outsiders. As election day neared, some establishment GOP figures decided they’d better swallow their pride and get on board. The establishment needed the insurgents more than the insurgents needed the establishment.

Billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker isn’t following this pattern as he campaigns for governor.

In normal times, a 40-minute late-April meeting to talk about the budget between a governor and the House speaker would be so routine that it would likely go unnoticed by pretty much everyone under the Statehouse dome. These ain’t normal times.

A funded, full-year state budget has not passed during a spring legislative session since 2013, almost exactly four years ago. We’ve had partial-year or “stopgap” budgets ever since.

And House Speaker Michael Madigan hasn’t formally met with the governor since December 6, about five months ago. Governor Bruce Rauner announced at the time there would be no more similar meetings until the Democrats were prepared to offer up a balanced budget with specific reforms – something that the governor hasn’t done since, either.

Illinois now has five public universities with junk-bond credit ratings. That has to be some kind of record.

Last week, S&P Global Ratings lowered the credit score of both Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University into junk-bond status. Eastern, Northeastern, and Governor’s State were already in junk-bond territory, and their ratings were lowered even further last week. The University of Illinois, the state’s flagship, was also downgraded to just three notches above junk status and put, with the rest of the universities, on a “credit watch with negative implications” – meaning it could be downgraded again within 90 days.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner denied that his two-day tour of the state last week had anything to do with the 2018 election, but it was pretty darned clear that he and his team were tuning up the band for the big show down the road.

Campaign funds not only paid for the tour, but political money was used to promote in it advance. I'm told Rauner's advertising on social and online media served more than a million impressions in the days leading up to the fly-around.

I suppose it’s too much to expect that we get an honest debate about the need for more state revenues in the already-active gubernatorial race. Candidates will be candidates, after all.

Governor Bruce Rauner’s campaign blasted out an e-mail last week telling supporters that newly announced billionaire Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker wants to raise the state income tax to over 5 percent, which, the campaign claimed, would be “higher than it was under Pat Quinn!”

Never mind that Rauner himself privately supports raising state taxes to historically high levels. He’s okay with a 4.99-percent income-tax rate and a 7-percent corporate tax rate. But he also backs a new tax on sugary beverages and a new sales tax on several services. If all that were implemented, state government would be taxing residents billions of dollars more than it ever has before.

As the Senate’s two leaders tried again to find the votes to pass their “grand bargain” last week and end the state’s two-year governmental gridlock, Governor Bruce Rauner began spending more than a million dollars on two new TV ads that portray him as an everyman hero in the fight for Illinois’ future.

“Illinois is broke and broken,” Rauner says to the camera while standing in a well-kept garage and wearing a plaid flannel shirt. “And the politicians that got us into this mess, their solution is this,” Rauner says as he holds up a roll of duct tape. “Higher taxes,” he says as he yanks out a piece of duct tape. “More spending,” he says with another jerk on the roll. “No real reforms,” he says as he takes one more strong pull.

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