Connelly explains collapse of 'grand bargain'
State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) blamed the clash of revenue realities with reform requirements for the recent demise of the Senate's "grand bargain" budget.
“I think the grand budget fell apart because it started with a premise of, we were going to spend $38 billion or $39 billion, when we have, as Rep. (David) McSweeney said, $32 billion in revenue,” Connelly said on "Chicago Tonight." “The governor said, ‘I will support revenue but I have to have reform.’ And there simply wasn’t enough reform to even consider the various revenue options that were being discussed.”
Connelly was joined on the program by fellow state lawmakers Reps. McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) and Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) and Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago).
In the House, budget discussions were contentious enough that Democrats recently passed a partisan stopgap budget without input from Republicans. Connelly believes the Senate, at least, is still managing to conduct bipartisan discussions in search of a solution.
When asked by correspondent Eddie Arruza where the impediment lay and whether Democrat and House Speaker Mike Madigan was at least partly to blame, Connelly said the problem was not in the Senate.
“I’m not going to sit here – I’m not in the House anymore – and stick it to the speaker,” he said. “I know in the Senate that we have had working groups; we’ve had working groups that met without House members that simply continued to discuss workers’ compensation and things of the like. … I think we probably have more conversations than there are in the House.”
In addition to workers’ compensation, Connelly said pension reform needs to be tackled. It is also an area with bipartisan support: Connelly said he presented a pension reform bill from Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).
“I kind of knew it wasn’t going to pass through the executive committee, but there were present votes, and the present votes, in my opinion, from my Democratic colleagues, came because they understand that pension reform has to happen,” he said.
Connelly also highlighted bipartisan support for measures that could ease spending on a local level and lead to less state funding for Illinois' many municipalities.
“I probably had more rank-and-file conversations with my Democratic colleagues on issues that I didn’t think they would even discuss with us – things like prevailing wage thresholds. Massachusetts – hardly a bastion of conservative Republicanism – has a $500,000 threshold for public contracts for prevailing wage. We have $25,000. Those are the types of things that could create savings at the local government level.”
The strain between parties in the Senate was evidenced following a proposal from McSweeney that the General Assembly hand over authority on the budget to Gov. Bruce Rauner for the upcoming year. McSweeney said if lawmakers could not come to an agreement, they should give Rauner the lump sum of the state’s revenue and the authority to make funding decisions in order to avoid a further drop in the state’s credit rating.
Trotter argued that Democrats could not support such a measure because Rauner has not inspired enough confidence for Democratic constituents to trust the decisions he would make. Connelly responded by emphasizing Rauner's push for criminal justice reform – not a typically conservative issue – and how he and the state’s Republicans have followed through.
“We have passed measure after measure after measure over the last two years – both chambers and signed by the governor – and to me that’s proof," he said. "As far as trust, he said he wanted to [enact criminal justice reform]; he did it. He said he wants to put in reforms and revenue to create a balanced budget and move the state forward. On criminal justice reform, everything’s a go; on business reform and things that are necessary to getting a budget finalized, it’s a stop.”