The increasingly nasty feud between Gov. Bruce Rauner and majority Democrats is about to spill from the Illinois statehouse to voters' mailboxes and televisions, as the rookie Republican unleashes a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against lawmakers he claims are intransigent over the state budget and his political agenda.
The entrenched, more experienced Democratic leaders — who say they were warned by Rauner of the coming campaign — began pushing back Sunday. Senate President John Cullerton said GOP lawmakers are being "lured away by the siren song of Gov. Rauner's campaign cash," hindering compromise.
"We find ourselves trying to work with a governor who continues to run campaigns rather than the state that elected him," the Chicago Democrat said. "Rather than roll up your sleeves and work on solutions, he's dictating demands and threatening those who defy him."
Majority Democrats in the General Assembly approved a $36.3 billion spending plan they say preserves Rauner-proposed cuts to essential programs. They acknowledge it's $3 billion short on revenue and want Rauner to agree to a tax increase.
A solemn Rauner spoke to reporters Sunday evening as the session officially came to an end, calling that plan "phony" and warning of a "rough summer," but reiterating his pledge to meet anywhere, any day to resolve the differences.
He gave no ground on his insistence that Chicago Democrats Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan take up his proposed changes, including a property tax freeze and less-costly workers' compensation insurance for employers, which he says would produce more state revenue by making Illinois more competitive. He derided the notion that Democrats' spending push reflects a desire to help the middle class.
"They are not about the middle class. They are about the political class in Illinois," Rauner said. "This is a battle for the future of Illinois, and it pits the political class against the people."
With Democrats dismissing Rauner's agenda as favoring CEOs over workers and refusing to link discussion of it to budget negotiations, the standoff amounts to a war of words right now. But with no deal by mid-July, state employee paychecks would be disrupted. If it drags into August, public schools won't have the money they need to open their doors.
Both leaders say they'll bring their members back to Springfield in the next 10 days — and lawmakers won't be reimbursed for mileage or daily expenses. It was unclear what business they'd conduct, but returning to the Capitol allows Democrats to blunt criticism from Rauner that they're not interested negotiating.
Rauner, a multimillionaire who has more than $30 million in campaign bank accounts and easy access to much more, won't describe the planned media barrage but aides have signaled the main target will be Madigan, the longtime speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chairman.
Rauner is relying in part on a statewide poll his political team conducted this spring showing the governor enjoyed a public-approval rating much higher than Madigan's. Steve Brown, Madigan's spokesman, said it's no sure thing the campaign will work.
"As the speaker has said, he's been the target of Republican attacks for years," Brown said. "It's nothing new."
Democratic mailers have arrived in GOP districts, too, though Illinois Republicans have deep pockets to fight back.
Rauner and other Republicans stressed he's backed off key pieces of his contentious business plans, including one allowing local communities to decide to make union membership voluntary. After 12 years with complete Capitol control, Democrats can't compromise, Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno said.
"Democrats are used to having their way 100 percent," she said. "It's a different dynamic now."
Before adjourning Sunday, the Legislature also approved a measure to lower Chicago's payments to its police and fire pension plans for each of the next five years. Republicans criticized it as irresponsible, but Democrats said it would help stabilize the funds and avoid a huge tax increase for Chicago residents.
Lawmakers also sent a measure to Rauner's desk to allow hunting and trapping of bobcats.