As we’ve all seen over the past several months, Governor Bruce Rauner is adamantly refusing to provide any help whatsoever to Chicago – which is struggling mightily under the weight of years of fiscal misfeasance – until his Turnaround Agenda demands are met. A long-sought education-funding-reform bill, a 911 emergency-call-center fee, and even a bill to allow the expedited sale of the Thompson Center have been hit with Rauner’s broad (and often false) brush of being a “Chicago bailout.”
Rauner will never again get another “opportunity” like this one. Democrats have historically protected Chicago, and the city needs more help now than ever before. Going after the city is, by far, Rauner’s “best” leverage to force the Democrats to cut a deal with him.
Democrats, particularly in the House, won’t budge, partly because their city-based and statewide union allies are demanding all-out war. Labor leaders see barely disguised anti-union agendas everywhere, particularly in the governor’s proposed property-tax freeze – which they believe is designed to put so much long-term fiscal pressure on local governments that they’ll demand relief from their union contracts.
The unions have done pretty much everything that House Speaker Michael Madigan has asked them to, right up to and including endorsing a billionaire for governor, despite the fact that this particular billionaire’s family has a not-so-great relationship with unions at its massive Hyatt hotel chain.
In return, Madigan has done pretty much everything that organized labor has asked him to do, including running multiple versions of a bill to weaken Rauner’s negotiating hand with AFSCME. And while Senate Democrats were negotiating workers’ comp reform and a property-tax freeze with Republicans, Madigan put up a brick wall.
The Democrats’ position got a little stronger when the people who run the Chicago Public Schools figured out how to (barely) keep the doors open for the rest of the school year. Without an imminent crisis in their party’s traditional home base that could’ve forced their hand with Rauner, they could turn their attention to late June – when a budget has to be passed or the state will be whacked with junk-bond status, K-12 schools may be forced to cancel fall classes, social services will completely collapse, and some of the “directional” universities will have to consider becoming half the skeletons they already are.
But Rauner has a stronger public hand. His pledge to stop any and all Chicago bailouts fits right in with attitudes of this state’s “white flight” suburbanites and city-hating Downstaters.
More importantly, the governor’s constant demands for a property-tax freeze put him on the side of the vast majority of Illinoisans.
Most Statehouse types believe that Rauner cares nothing at all about the real and lasting damage this impasse is causing. In his prior business career, he’d regularly bust out companies and sell off their pieces if he wasn’t getting his way or if the companies weren’t performing up to his standards. This doesn’t look all that different.
Some even go further – including Comptroller Susana Mendoza – to claim destruction has been Rauner’s real plan all along. He never wanted a budget, they say. He deliberately set out to shrink government by killing it.
And Madigan is no bleeding-heart liberal, either. He’s never been a big fan of the bureaucracy, having fought with AFSCME and the teachers’ unions countless times over the decades (but making up for the spats whenever it was beneficial to his position). His people have denied that the impasse is having any significant impact on the state’s economy. He’s even claimed to some of his members in private that social-service providers aren’t as bad off as they’ve said. And a large number of universities are in Republican House districts.
And so, as it has been for two years now, we have a soulless irresistible force up against a heartless immovable object. They both have strong enough bases of support to have sustained them through this mess, even though the vast majority of the population can’t stand either one of them. They’ve done their best to prevent a complete catastrophe on their own side of the fence, which could force capitulation. One is a kabillionaire who can bring limitless resources to the campaign playing field. The other has opened a new and expensive front with a billionaire candidate.
We could be heading for the biggest showdown in the history of Illinois at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. We’ll either get a deal or our state will implode.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.