SPRINGFIELD — A banner hanging above the stage at Sangamon Auditorium at the University of Illinois Springfield on Wednesday during the Illinois House inauguration ceremony offered advice to members of the 100th General Assembly.
Quoting President John F. Kennedy, it read: “Let us not seek to fix blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
After the 99th General Assembly failed to enact a comprehensive state budget during its two-year term, there’s plenty of blame to go around. And while members of both political parties and both legislative chambers acknowledge that an end to the budget standoff is long overdue, it remains unclear how the Democratic-controlled Legislature will find enough common ground to approve a budget that will also satisfy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for changes to the state’s business and political climate.
Despite new crop of state representatives and senators taking the oath of office for the first time Wednesday in separate ceremonies, the lay of the land in Springfield is relatively unchanged.
On the Democratic side, long-serving House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both of Chicago, were easily re-elected to their positions, as were House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
Despite a months-long campaign by the Illinois Republican Party to pressure Democrats to vote against Madigan, none did. The lone holdout among the 67 House Democrats was Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood, who voted “present.”
In accepting a 17th term in the position he has held for all but two of the past 34 years, Madigan laid out an agenda that he says would boost economic growth in the state without competing in a “race to the bottom” on issues like workers’ compensation and collective bargaining, a shot at Rauner’s policy agenda.
Madigan called for increased investment in higher education, which has been hard hit by the budget turmoil of the past two years, along with transportation and communication infrastructure.
The speaker also called for cutting the state’s corporate income tax rate in half while also ensuring that all businesses pay something. And in an op-ed Wednesday in The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, Madigan also promoted a tax surcharge on income of more than $1 million to fund education and an increase in the state’s minimum wage.
“I believe we can grow the economy and create jobs without hurting middle-class families,” Madigan said.
For his part, Durkin said Republicans would work with Democrats on their policy agenda if it includes things like paying down the state’s $11 billion backlog of bills, reforming the severely underfunded public pension systems, reducing unemployment and enacting “truly balanced budgets.”
“If that is your intention, then we will work with you every step of the way,” Durkin said.
He said Republicans are “desperately seeking to be part of the solution” and encouraged bipartisan cooperation.
That kind of bipartisan cooperation has been on display of late in the Senate, which held its inauguration simultaneously at the Capitol. Rauner presided until Cullerton retook the role of president.
After the oaths were taken and Cullerton and Radogno were re-elected, the Senate kicked off its new term by unanimously approving a change to the chamber’s rules that going forward will limit the Senate president and minority leader to five two-year terms in those leadership roles.
The move was a down payment on an ambitious budget compromise worked out between Cullerton and Radogno, which includes tax increases, six new casino licenses, reforms to the state’s pension systems and workers’ compensation laws, and a host of other initiatives.
“We have made it clear that the Senate will offer solutions and leadership,” Cullerton said in accepting a fifth term as Senate president. “We are filing more than a dozen proposals. … The intent is to quickly pass them in this new session.”
Cullerton said he and Radogno made a promise during the 2009 inauguration to work together and have made good on that promise.
Radogno said it’s going to take lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for the Senate to pass a compromise that includes the new revenue and structural reforms needed to address the state’s problems.
“It is my hope today that this is not just the beginning of a new General Assembly,” Radogno said. “My hope is that this is a new day for a better Illinois.”
Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, who formally nominated Durkin as the GOP candidate for House speaker, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the impasse can but brought to an end, but he said it will take continued pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers on leadership.
“There has to be that communication there (between Madigan and Durkin) that presently is going on in the Senate between President Cullerton and Leader Radogno,” Brady said. “That has to extend over to the House. Jim Durkin has extended his hand to do that; I hope the speaker will accommodate.”
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said he’s glad to see a new session of the General Assembly begin with substantive discussions about policies to grow the state’s economy and balance the budget.
“That’s a positive step forward that is necessary to break the current impasse,” Manar said. “I hope all of these things lead to a balanced and permanent state budget.”