John Cullerton

Zach Bernard

New ways to tackle Illinois' underfunded pension systems could be emerging, as the Republican governor appears to be backing away from his plan.

There's good reason many lawmakers are feeling flummoxed. Illinois' budget is already sagging. And with last week's state Supreme Court decision tossing a major pension law, the deficit is larger still.

The court decision was unequivocal - it's not constitutional to cut state employees' retirement benefits.

John Cullerton
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Even though John Cullerton went along with the pension law that on Friday was found by the state's high court to be unconstitutional, the Illinois Senate President had always favored another approach. Now he's saying (well, not exactly in these exact words ... ) "I told you so." In this episode of The Players -- a podcast about who's who in Illinois politics and what they're up to -- Amanda Vinicky spoke with the Senate's top Democrat about his plans to try again.

Organization and business leaders say they were stunned by a Good Friday notice indicating state funding for some programs would be immediately terminated. Democrats say they were “blindsided” too.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been traveling the state to promote his so-called "Turnaround Agenda." But don't expect the General Assembly to act on it right away.

It calls for sweeping changes to unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, limits on where lawsuits can be filed and the creation of right-to-work zones. Plus, a local freeze on property taxes, and a repeal of the state's Prevailing Wage Law.

LinkedIn

Social service agencies are reeling from sudden budget cuts. More could be on the way.

Some Democrats say they were taken off guard when, two weeks after legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner passed a law to handle the budget through June, Rauner's administration said certain programs would be cut-off: Grants for a quit-smoking hotline, support for autistic kids, and funding for a teen after-school program -- all eliminated. In cases, workers have been laid off, and services discontinued.

Brian Mackey
mattpenning.com / WUIS/Illinois Issues

News Analysis — Illinois continues to be pummeled with bad budget news. The General Assembly’s nonpartisan budget analysts at the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability say income tax receipts will be down $1.9 billion in the next fiscal year. That’s thanks to the tax cut that took effect January 1, lowering the individual income tax rate from 5 percent to 3.75 percent.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Editor's note appended.

Last week’s short-term budget fix underscores tensions between some Democratic lawmakers and the new Republican governor. House and Senate Democratic leaders urged their members to support the appropriations, but many didn’t. Some Hispanic legislators and members of the Legislative Black Caucus voted against the budget legislation, which funded programs several of them said were important to their respective constituents.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois General Assembly this week approved a fix for Illinois short-term budget problems, but deeper issues remain. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock took his final vote in Congress and gave a farewell address. Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell joins the panel to discuss that and other topics on this week's edition of State Week.

Amanda Vinicky

Republican Bruce Rauner has signed a temporary budget fix -- his first law since becoming governor earlier this year. 

Illinois' budget has a $1.6 billion dollar gap --- the result of a spending plan Democrats passed in the spring; some had hoped then for a post-election tax increase that never came to fruition.

Democratic Senator Heather Steans of Chicago says this will fill that gap.

Illinois' new governor has his first opportunity to determine the fate of legislation. Gov. Bruce Rauner's decision could affect how much you're paying for electricity.

The measure at hand, House Bill 3975, took a strange and winding path to get to Governor Bruce Rauner's desk, beginning with one governor and one General Assembly, and carrying over into another administration and new legislative session. The plan allows Ameren and Commonwealth Edison to continue asking customers to pay for upgrades to the electric grid; in many cases that means a higher electric bill.

State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, discussion of Governor Bruce Rauner's state budget plan.

Amanda Vinicky

Thirty-eight days into his term as Illinois' governor, Bruce Rauner yesterday delivered his much-anticipated budget address. Amanda Vinicky recaps the financial reckoning.

www.ilga.gov

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says his legal staff is reviewing an executive order issued by Gov. Bruce Rauner that eliminates dues paid by workers who aren't public union members.  
 
 Rauner says 6,500 state employees are forced to pay ``fair share'' fees at an
average of $577 a year for each worker.
 
 Cullerton is a Chicago Democrat. He and others are skeptical about whether the
Winnetka Republican has the legal ability to challenge the fee. Unions have
fired back at the governor, saying they intend to work to have the order

Amanda Vinicky

For the past couple of weeks, Illinois' new governor, Bruce Rauner, traveled the state, giving speeches that mostly told audiences what's wrong with Illinois. Tuesday, he used his state of the state address to begin to describe what he wants to do about it.

Rauner didn't just deliver a big speech yesterday. He produced a full manifesto, complete with calls for an upheaval of Illinois' labor laws, changes to the constitution, a property tax freeze, and the hiring of more prison guards. The speech started off on a conciliatory note. Or maybe it was an invitation.

Amanda Vinicky

When the Senators were inaugurated to the 99th General Assembly this week, President John Cullerton wasn't the only member of his family behind the podium.

Cullerton's nephew, Michael Lynch -- who starred on "The Voice" in 2013 -- sang the "Star Spangled Banner" at the beginning of the ceremony. 

Take a listen: 

UIS.EDU

House Speaker Michael Madigan is stressing the importance of bipartisanship as Illinois enters its first divided government in more than a decade.  

Madigan was again selected House speaker by the 99th General Assembly in a vote along party lines Wednesday. The Chicago Democrat is the country's longest serving House speaker. He's served all but two years in the role since 1983.  

WUIS/Brian Mackey

Illinois' new Republican governor says he held a ``very productive'' Tuesday afternoon meeting with state legislative leaders.
 
Bruce Rauner met with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate
President John Cullerton, and Republican House Leader Jim Durkin and Senate
Leader Christine Radogno in his office shortly before issuing an executive order
on ethical practices for state employees.
 
Rauner says the leaders discussed their various communication styles as
Illinois enters its first divided government in more than a decade.
 

Bruce Rauner at Inauguration 2015
Brian Mackey/WUIS

In one of his first acts as Illinois' new governor, Republican Bruce Rauner Monday said he'll issue an executive order requiring all state agencies to stop spending money they don't have to.

The main theme of Rauner's campaign was that Illinois' finances are a mess, need fixing, and that he's the man to do it. He continued that message during his inaugural address, saying "we have an opportunity to accomplish something historic; to fix years of busted budgets and broken government."

www.ilga.gov

The president of the Illinois Senate is continuing to withhold a piece of legislation from Gov. Pat Quinn.

At the tail end of its session, members of the General Assembly rushed to pass a measure that makes it easier for Illinois' big utilities, Ameren and Commonwealth Edison, to charge more for delivering power.

The companies say it's necessary so they can continue to improve the electric grid. But legislators' quick action came to an abrupt halt when Senate President John Cullerton used a parliamentary maneuver to keep the measure from going to Gov. Quinn.

If you listened to Bruce Rauner on the campaign trail, you'd think that he would want to steer clear of Illinois' lawmakers. He reviled them. Especially those who had long careers in Springfield. Rauner, remember, ran on a platform advocating for term limits. But that was before he won election. Now, as he prepares to be Illinois' next governor, Rauner has spent a time reaching out to the politicians he'd once vilified. Amanda Vinicky checked in with some of them about how it went.

Munger '14 Campaign Website http://votemunger.com/about-leslie/

Chances the state will hold a special election for comptroller in 20-16 have improved, now that the Illinois House Speaker has signaled his support. Lawmakers will be back in Springfield for special session Thurs., Jan 8 to vote on it.

Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, says Madigan will support giving voters a say, instead of allowing an appointee to take over long-term. Brown had previously only said that Madigan believed the future of the comptroller's office was a matter to be settled by the executive branch.

Comptroller website

 A measure has been filed that would prompt a special election in 2016 for Illinois Comptroller. The vacancy created in the office following the death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka in December exposed what some say is a weak spot in Illinois Constitution, as Topinka was set to begin a new, four-year term. The legislation would put in place a new method that would limit the length of gubernatorial appointments to fill such openings.

Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the closing of Tamms Correctional Center.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Pat Quinn enters his final week in office with a speech and special session on the agenda, but it's unclear how hard lawmakers and leaders will work with the Democrat on a possible special election or other issues.  

Quinn has called legislators to Springfield Thursday. He wants legislation for a special election to replace late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Senate President John Cullerton supports the idea, but House Speaker Michael Madigan says it's an executive branch issue.  

WUIS

A final piece of Gov. Pat Quinn's legacy is up in the air as lawmakers leave Springfield without sending him legislation increasing Illinois' minimum wage.
 
Quinn championed the issue during his tough re-election bid. But there are few
options to tackle it before Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes office.
 
Quinn can call a special session, but there's the embarrassing risk of
lawmakers refusing to act. He also can attempt to persuade House Speaker Michael
Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to agree to a special session.
 

Amanda Vinicky

The Illinois House has adjourned its two-year legislative session for good, without a vote on a minimum wage hike - meaning that Representatives will not be back in Springfield before Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes over.  But backers of an increase are raising the possibility that the proposal isn't quite dead yet.

In Latin, "Sine Die" means “without a date," so when House Speaker Michael Madigan said "I move that we adjourn Sine Die," he meant that current makeup of the Illinois House was adjourning for good - with no intent to meet again.

Amanda Vinicky

Advocates for government transparency still have a fight ahead over the state's Freedom of Information Act. That's despite a temporary reprieve yesterday.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, of Chicago, caught transparency advocates off guard last week, with just a handful of days remaining in the legislative session. She introduced a plan that would make it harder for members of the public to obtain government information. It would also make it harder for citizens to recover legal fees when governments illegally withhold documents.

Illinois Senate

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says lawmakers are heeding Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner's  advice and won't extend the state's temporary income tax increase.
 
Rauner advised lawmakers not to take up any substantive issues before he's
sworn in.
 
Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, says the Republican Rauner has ``a little honeymoon period'' during his first weeks in office and the Legislature is ``giving him his first victory.''
 

Bruce Rauner
brucerauner.com

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Bruce Rauner indicated he had called House Speaker Michael Madigan and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.

However, a couple of reports indicated that neither Madigan nor Cullerton spoke with the Governor-Elect.   Reports in the State Journal Register and Chicago Sun Times say Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman has no record of any calls from Rauner

Not long ago, attempts to raise criminal penalties in Illinois were met with a standing joke. All such legislation had to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where by informal agreement, it could only advance if it satisfied the sole criterion of the Cullerton Rule. On April 20, 2005, Sen. Edward Maloney, a Democrat from Chicago, presented House Bill 2699, a bipartisan measure that sought to raise the penalties for identity theft.

Amanda Vinicky

The underfunding of the state's pensions have grabbed headlines the past several years, and finally reached the political tipping point late last year when legislators passed an overhaul of the systems. It's a recent response to a very old problem.

It was Gov. Pat Quinn who signed the law that reduces state workers' and most public school teachers' pensions -- a controversial plan that's at the center of a lawsuit.

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