Rauner Blasts Madigan for Lawmaker Pay Hike Amid Budget Mess

Gov. Bruce Rauner attempted to crank up the pressure Tuesday on House Speaker Michael Madigan over the state budget jam, disparaging the Chicago Democrat for not stopping a $1,360 pay hike for lawmakers while Illinois struggles without a spending plan.

The Republican governor has missed few opportunities in recent weeks to publicize the pay hike, but Madigan's refusal last week to answer reporters' questions about it brought fresh reproach.

"He's avoiding the issue because this is so symptomatic, such a symbol of what's wrong with our government. It's protecting and promoting the interests of the political class at the expense of the middle class," Rauner told reporters Tuesday. "If they're going to take a $1,300 pay increase for themselves for part-time work, they should start earning that pay hike by meeting with us and getting reforms to our government."

Hours later, Madigan's House Democrats stymied a GOP plea to consider legislation to nix the raise. Madigan said Rauner was creating "a diversion" to take focus off of Democrats' demands that the first-year governor join them in closing a deficit of up to $4 billion.

Rauner has refused for months to consider a budget blueprint as long as the Democratic-controlled Legislature won't give ground on his package of alterations he envisions for running business with less expense and politics with less public suspicion. He wants changes to workers' compensation and liability lawsuit payouts, a property tax freeze, political term limits and unbiased legislative mapping of districts.

Madigan rejects the ideas as "extreme" measures that could impoverish middle-class workers or as half-baked GOP campaign pitches.

Rauner has focused his criticism this summer almost exclusively on Madigan, while ignoring Senate President John Cullerton, another Chicago Democrat, or even going as far as complimenting Cullerton's cooperation. When asked why, Rauner said, "I've got to focus where the problem is."

The 2 percent cost-of-living increase — lawmakers' first in seven years — is formula-based and automatic under state law. It replaced previous contentious machinations for determining how to compensate members of what's supposed to be a part-time General Assembly.

In July 2008, legislators' pay went up 3.8 percent, to $67,836, state records show. Stipends are offered for various leadership roles. Caucus chiefs, such as Madigan, make an extra $27,477. Members of their leadership teams make an extra $18,000 to $23,000. Committee chairmen and minority spokesmen make $10,300 extra.

Madigan, a 44-year House veteran and speaker for three decades, has declined to address the pay raise or even explain pay-hike history, so checkered it provoked a 1980 ballot measure in which voters cut membership in the House by one-third.

"This is a diversion, where the governor is attempting to divert attention away from the solution of the problem of the budget deficit," Madigan said Tuesday.

With Democrats controlling legislative traffic, a red light has greeted GOP legislation to reject the raise, keeping it from consideration. Floor requests Tuesday to schedule a hearing were declared out of order.

"Everybody's going to have to give in a little bit on this budget crisis," said Rep. Mark Batinick, a Plainfield Republican who is the bill's lead sponsor. "If we can't do this easy thing, I don't know how we're going to do the hard things."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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