Illinois legislative leaders meet; no word on budget deal

Illinois' legislative leaders met twice Thursday but surrendered few details about how close they are to a budget pact with one day remaining before the start of a third consecutive fiscal year without a spending plan

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The relatively calm day in an otherwise cacophonous Capitol was interrupted by the announcement that the Senate's minority leader, Lemont Republican Christine Radogno, would vacate her Senate seat Saturday, although she pledged to keep working until the moment of her departure.

The first woman to lead a caucus in the Illinois General Assembly stepped forward last winter to broker a budget compromise with Democratic Senate President John Cullerton. She faced disappointment when she could get none of her 21 other Senate Republicans to go along with the "grand bargain" they fashioned, but told reporters she is not a casualty of the contentious, two-year budget battle.

"Though I leave political office with a sense of sadness and some disappointment, I leave with no regrets," Radogno said. "I did my best — that's all I could do."

Without a budget by Saturday morning, bond-rating houses have threatened to downgrade Illinois' creditworthiness to "junk" status. Universities could face the loss of academic accreditation and the treasury will soon run short of money to cover even the court-ordered payments that have kept Illinois government on autopilot while erecting a $6.2 billion annual deficit and $14.6 billion in past-due bills.

House Speaker Madigan said the House would vote Friday on the Democrats' version of an annual budget, a $36.5 billion spending plan they say spends $800 million less than Rauner himself proposed last winter. Without elaboration, Madigan said negotiations continue over Rauner's demands that are tangential to the budget, including cost-cutting changes to workers' compensation, state employee pension benefits, a statewide property tax freeze and local government consolidation.

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The Chicago Democrat has complained for two years that Rauner is not "reasonable" in seeking discussions of "non-budget" items in talks over a fiscal plan. But this week, he staked out his own. They include Rauner's promise to sign a school funding overhaul that won wide legislative majorities, requiring state regulation of rates by companies selling workers' comp insurance, and mandating an open procurement process for a $9 billion contract the Rauner administration plans to sign for managed-care health coverage.

Madigan said he is negotiating on Rauner's demands in an effort to compromise.

"I don't see that I'm being unreasonable," Madigan said. "I'm here. I'm proposing to vote on things I don't believe in. ... But in the spirit of compromise, I'm prepared to vote" for those measures.

Radogno's exit sets off a succession scramble which includes Deputy Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington, the unsuccessful GOP candidate for governor in 2014.

A social worker, the 64-year-old Radogno was elected to the Senate in 1996. She and Cullerton assumed their leadership positions on the same day in 2009. Cullerton called their tenure "nine years of cooperation and professionalism."

Rauner called her a "consummate professional" who "championed fiscal discipline and human services." House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said "Chris always stayed above the fray in this very partisan environment."

Madigan, a legislator since 1971, applauded Radogno's hard work, honesty, integrity, and forthrightness and concluded his praise with an apparent shot at Rauner.

"The genius of the legislative process lies in the ability to compromise," Madigan said. "Chris Radogno understood that."


Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at . His work can be found at'connor