The Springfield Stalemate Looms Large as the 100th Illinois General Assembly Convenes

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

On Monday, in line with our focus on post-election policy, we discussed three key variables to consider when teaching the newly sworn in 115th Congress. Yesterday, the 100th Illinois General Assembly took their own oaths of office, making for a timely preview of the body and the road ahead this spring.

As detailed in our post-election analysis, Republicans made subtle inroads into Democrats’ supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate, undermining it altogether in the case of the former. Thus, the House and Speaker Michael Madigan no longer have the votes to override gubernatorial vetoes along party lines.

However, compromise has been elusive since Republican Governor Bruce Rauner was inaugurated in January 2015. Rauner has demanded passage of selected elements of his pro-business, anti-labor “Turnaround Agenda” in exchange for a budget agreement featuring a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

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Speaker Madigan and House Democrats contend that both parties should pass a budget first before moving on to these “non-budgetary” items. The result has been a stalemate that has resulted in 18 months without a full fiscal year budget, billions of unpaid bills, and irreparable harm to the state’s social service agencies and higher education institutions.

Of course, this is all old news. Signs of movement emerged in the last week as Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Minority Leader Christine Radogno have crafted elements of a grand compromise that would fully fund the state’s budget with help from a significant income tax increase and new tax on sugary drinks. In order to appease the Governor and his fellow Republicans, term limits for legislative leaders are part of the package, as is pension reform that may meet constitutional scrutiny, along with reforms to the state worker’s compensation system.

While Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan haven’t been party to these talks, they establish a marker for a grand compromise that has been elusive to date. For the sake of our state and its citizens, let’s hope this stalemate doesn’t linger until the next election.

For those of you still licking your wounds from November, the filing period for the 2018 midterms begins this fall, and the sweepstakes for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is already heating up. Rauner himself plans to run for re-election and gave his campaign an early Christmas gift in the sum of $50 million.

The Governor also has long-term plans to further undermine the Democratic legislative majorities, so 2018 looms large as the 100th General Assembly convenes.

It’s critical that our students understand what’s at stake in these deliberations, and opportunities abound to engage them in efforts to break the stalemate. Stay tuned here for further updates and pedagogical strategies to make this a reality.

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