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And Then There Were None: Governor, Leaders Haven't Met At All In 2016

The State Legislative Leaders Foundation
Credit The State Legislative Leaders Foundation

By the end of next week, Illinois will have gone a full nine months without a budget. And yet, the state's top politicians still aren't talking. The governor and the four legislative leaders went all of June through November without meeting, before finally getting together a couple of times just before the end of 2015. They didn't continue into the new year.

Extended story

What got Illinois to this point, and how to get out of it, is a long and complicated -- and at times sordid -- tale.

But with public universities laying off professors, social service agencies shutting down, the state's credit rating dropping, and the budget deficit building ...you may think that Illinois' governor and top lawmakers would be ready to put an end to it.

Maybe so.

But they're not putting their heads together to figure out how, and Gov. BruceRauner'sseemingly given up trying.

"I've heard some questions that, gee, should I be trying to push four leader meetings to try to push things along. Um ... four leader meetings, uh, in the past have never really worked. And when I called them last summer and in the fall, there was strong resistance from the other side of the aisle to having them," Rauner said earlier this week. "I think there's a reluctance to having them, for whatever reason. And the reality is, I don't think the Speaker will be ... his style is not to be compromising in a group, I don't see. That's not how he works. So my own view is further four leader meetings will not be productive."

It's a far cry from when he first came into office. The Republican Rauner has had big success in the business world and talked up his negotiation skills, his ability to build relationships.

It's not a stretch to say that Rauner's relationship with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is the most strained. Let's just say that when it comes to Madigan, the governor doesn't abide by the saying "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Word is that hasn't made Madigan eager to have a heart-to-heart with the governor.

But, Rauner admits Madigan's support will be needed to get the ball rolling on any sort of deal.

Which is why the governor says -- rather than meeting with all four legislative leaders, he's aiming for a one-on-one with Madigan.

Twice this week, Rauner told reporters, that. In Chicago, on Monday: "I'm hoping that the Speaker and I could meet in private soon," he said.

And the next day, in Springfield.

"I see compromises coming probably in one-one-on sessions. That's the reason I've been advocating for a private session with the speaker," Rauner said.

Whether it's a formal invitation, or how that went, he didn't say.

So I did my own reaching out to Madigan, by calling his spokesman, Steve Brown and asking.

"I really don't have a way ... I don't have any information on that claim so I don't really have any comment one way or another on that so," Brown said in response.

Okay then. The Speaker's spokesman -- one of his right-hand-men - doesn't know whether the governor has called Madigan's office to ask for a meeting. Or if he's just made the offer through the press.

(It seems the governor isn't the only one who has a hard time getting certain information from the Speaker's office).

Regardless, I wanted to know if Madigan would be interested in a meeting.

"Well is it maybe time? Would it be prudent for the Speaker and governor to get together and talk about about a path forward?" I asked Brown.

He responded: "I have no thoughts on that."

At that point, I tried again asking about the governor's supposed invitation for a chat.

Madigan and the other legislative leaders say their calendars and appointment lists aren't subject to the state's Freedom of Information Law, so it's hard to know who they get calls from or meet with, and when.

I pressed Brown to check with Madigan's secretary, scheduler or administrative assistant.

"I don't think I'll have an opportunity to get information about that claim. So that's really all I have to say about that. So do you have another topic you wanted to go through?" he said.

I did, so I chose to move on. But not before asking that he make some inquiries, and get back in touch when he had answers about any pending discussions or meetings. I repeated that request before he hung up.

Duly noted, Brown said, though he added "I'm not anticipating that'll change much."

Madigan has been asked in the past about previous meetings with Rauner; he continually says he'll maintain a professional relationship with the Governor.

There is the thought that a sit-down between the two would be a waste of time.

Rauner and his allies just spent a record $10 million dollars on a pair of high-stakes legislative races. Both of his candidates lost.

Madigan issued a statement afterward saying voters had sent a clear message that they were rejecting Rauner's union-weakening, pro-business agenda. It was like he was sending Rauner a message: 'Move on, and we can talk compromise'.

But Rauner Tuesday said that he views things differently.  The governor said it's a mistake to read into any one election; each has its own unique characteristics.

"My own view is taxpayers lost a couple of high-profile races," he said. "That’s not totally shocking. Taxpayers have been losing races for a long time. Changing that doesn't happen overnight. Taxpayers won a number of lower-profile races, but important races around the ticket and that's good news."

Rauner bristles at those who say the election shows his Turnaround efforts aren't supported.

He says the people support reasonable term limits, redistricting, prevailing wage limits, a more business-friendly workers' compensation system, and even right-to-work.

The governor says those efforts have all stalled because of the man he evidently can't get a meeting with.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
Amanda Vinicky