- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois Democrats agreed to give some of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s priority reforms a platform Wednesday but still voted them down in an exercise that could further fuel a politically charged standoff that’s expected to extend the summer.

A Senate committee voted along party lines to reject Rauner’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation laws, and other committees were expected to do the same with a proposed property tax freeze and changes to the state’s civil justice system. The votes came the day after the House passed a large chunk of bills comprising a $36.3 billion budget, backed by Democrats, which would spend more than $3 billion above what the state is expected to take in in revenue this year.

The governor, a wealthy private equity investor, has declined to negotiate on the budget until the Legislature passes pro-business reforms he says are central to growing the state’s economy.

Democrats, meanwhile, say that the budget should be the focus of the remaining days of the session. While the House has so far declined to take up the bills reflecting a scaled-back version of Rauner’s “turnaround agenda”, Senate Democrats took up a different tactic Wednesday, debating Rauner’s bills at length before voting them down.

“The governor made a proposal. It clearly did not have the support to advance, nor did I expect that it would. But it was important for both sides to make their arguments,” said Don Harmon, a top Senate Democrat. Harmon called the governor’s pro-business reforms “clearly a distraction from the task at hand - to pass a responsible budget. The so-called negotiations were designed from the get-go to try to make Democrats wear the jacket for the governor’s immature handling of these items.”

The votes will serve as additional fodder for Rauner, who already has been ripping Democrats for being unwilling to make the changes he says are needed to improve Illinois’ economy.

Even before the votes, the Rauner administration was criticizing Democrats for a failure to compromise.

“Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls are walking away from the negotiating table and refusing to compromise on critical reforms needed,” press secretary Lance Trover wrote in a 5:30 a.m. email blast. “Instead, they appear ready to end the regular session with yet another broken budget or massive tax hike - and no structural reforms.”

Trover also suggested that Democrats were maneuvering to block changes to reform state hiring to allay Democrats’ or unions’ concerns.

The Senate also moved Wednesday to begin passing the roughly 20 budget bills that have been filed so far. The chamber’s action follows the House’s passage of a number of bills Monday, which continued on Tuesday. Also revealed for the first time were some details of Democrats’ plans for spending on elementary and secondary education, which Rauner had made a cornerstone of his budget proposal. Appropriations Chair Will Davis said school funding would increase by roughly $240 million under Democrats’ plan, with one-fourth of that specially designated for low-income schools.

The Senate also voted down a series of billions of dollars in budget cuts they said represent Rauner’s budget plans.

“The House has been a land of stunts and games,” GOP state Sen. Matt Murphy, of Palatine, said. “It’s unfortunate to see the majority in this chamber join them.”


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