SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session started Tuesday much as its spring session wrapped up, with Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders divided over a long-term budget solution and power giant Exelon pushing for an energy policy overhaul to prevent the closure of financially struggling nuclear plants.
There are only five days remaining on the House calendar and four on the Senate’s during the scheduled veto session.
Exelon has introduced what it’s calling the “Future Energy Jobs Bill,” an energy policy overhaul it says is crucial to the future of its Quad-Cities and Clinton nuclear plants. A previous version of the bill failed to advance in the spring, and the new version also includes measures to keep open Dynegy-owned coal-fired power plants in southern Illinois.
“The legislation reflects the work of a broad group of stakeholders to achieve comprehensive energy legislation that is urgently needed to strengthen our economy and save and create tens of thousands of jobs,” Exelon spokesman Paul Adams said in a prepared statement. “As with any piece of major legislation, it will continue to evolve as stakeholders weigh in. But at its core, we know the bill will bring significant benefits to consumers and the environment in Illinois.”
The company says the revamped proposal includes energy efficiency programs that would save $4 billion, policies to promote the growth of wind and solar energy, and $1 billion in funding for programs to assist low-income customers.
Opponents, however, are already labeling the bill “the largest rate hike in U.S. history.”
On the budget front, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he believes a deal can be reached using the framework that produced other partial budget agreements during Rauner’s tenure, including a stopgap spending plan that’s currently funding most state operations through Dec. 31.
Without action before Jan. 1, public universities, social service providers and others that were deprived of funding as the state went a year without a budget will be plunged back into uncertainty.
“If you use the same framework, the odds are you’ll get a budget to finish off this fiscal year, you’ll be able to provide for a good level of funding for education, you’ll be able to provide for public safety, (and) you’ll be able to provide for the seniors and for the vulnerable in our society,” Madigan said.
While he sidestepped questions about what that framework entails, Madigan has previously noted the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the first-term Republican governor have reached budget agreements when Rauner has set aside his pro-business, union-weakening “turnaround agenda.”
On the heels of a long and bitter election season, Rauner and legislative leaders met Tuesday morning for the first time in months.
Following the half-hour meeting, Madigan complicated matters by announcing he’s appointing state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, to be the chief negotiator for House Democrats on budget issues.
The announcement vexed the Republican legislative leaders, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, who said that was not what had been discussed behind closed doors in the governor’s office.
“We listened to the speaker’s comments, and we’re frankly confused by them,” Radogno said. “To have another negotiating team come in was not what was agreed to.”
Radogno said discussions need to take place among herself, Durkin, Madigan, Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
Durkin said leaders need to use previous recommendations from bipartisan working groups of rank-and-file lawmakers as the basis for negotiating “a complete, comprehensive budget, one that is balanced, and one that’s fair to taxpayers (and) that has reforms.”
“We are not going to support any more stopgap budgets,” Durkin said.
The leaders are scheduled to meet again Wednesday. Cullerton doesn’t plan to appoint anyone else to negotiate on behalf of Senate Democrats, spokesman John Patterson said.