By Rich Miller
One of the hottest rumors making the rounds among Statehouse types last week was that the governor and/or the Illinois Republican Party will be sending “trackers” to Springfield for the upcoming special legislative session.
The rumor, which was everywhere, was that the trackers would follow Democrats around to try to get them to say silly things or record them doing stuff that might not look good to the folks back home.
House staff was even telling Democratic members to watch out for the trackers. And some Democrats were privately demanding that their party respond in kind.
So I went to the upper echelons of Team Rauner and asked whether the rumors were true. I was told in no uncertain terms that they were not.
Nasty rumors thrive in the pea-soup fog of fear and loathing that pervades the Statehouse these days. At one time or another, it seems like everybody has fought everybody and now nobody trusts anybody.
Heck, the far-right Illinois Policy Institute is even running Facebook ads whacking Governor Bruce Rauner and legislative Republicans for their “$5-billion tax hike.” Rauner used to be a large contributor and often sought advice from and palled around with the group’s leader.
The governor’s party last week proposed what appears on the surface to be a fairly reasonable budget plan (pending further review) with some much-needed tax increases. But they couched the unveiling in such overtly partisan and demanding terms that it looks like a trap to many eyes on both sides of the aisle.
“We’re calling a special session so lawmakers can pass the Republicans’ compromise balanced budget plan with reforms,” Rauner tweeted just before he officially called the special session. The governor has obvious comprehension problems with the concept of “compromise.” A plan drafted by one party and then presented as an all-or-nothing demand doesn’t quite fit the traditional definition of the word. Then again, the Democratic majority has also done this on countless occasions.
At least Rauner is finally starting to own something, but if he had just laid his tax-hike cards on the table two-and-a-half years ago, we might not be in this mess today. Senate President John Cullerton has said almost from the beginning that the only way a tax increase will pass is if the governor asks for it and sets the rates.
There’s so little trust right now that some Democrats (and some Republicans, who’ve also been burned by Rauner) still want the governor to specifically say aloud that he will sign a personal-income-tax rate of 4.95 percent and new service taxes on things such as landscaping, which are included in his proposal.
But it’s not just the rumors or the proposals or the press conferences. Other recent events have thoroughly rattled many Democrats. For instance, on June 9 Rauner contributed $1.5 million to the Illinois Republican Party, and the following day the state party passed through $850,000 to the House Republicans’ campaign committee.
To some Democratic eyes, Rauner gave his Republicans big bucks to either vote for tax hikes or stay mum.
It’s also pretty much impossible to pass a tax hike without votes from Chicago Democratic legislators, who don’t have to worry about general-election challenges. Yet the Republican proposal included what seemed to Chicago Democrats to be an obvious poison pill: Vote to raise taxes while simultaneously shortchanging funding for Chicago’s public schools.
And then Illinois Republican Party negative mailers started hitting various House Democratic incumbents.
“Fred Crespo and Mike Madigan may let Illinois collapse,” blared a mailer that landed last week in Representative Crespo’s suburban turf. “Fred Crespo teamed with Mike Madigan to: Block a balanced budget; Bail out Chicago Public Schools; Prevent a property-tax increase; Reject job-creating reforms.”
Rauner recently began airing TV ads attacking Speaker Madigan and his “puppets” for letting the state “crumble” and for wanting to raise taxes “by billions.”
It’s true that the House Democrats do stand alone as the only caucus without a budget plan. It’s not at all inaccurate to warn Illinoisans that the House Dems may “let Illinois collapse,” because they haven’t yet done anything concrete to keep the government from collapsing.
But Democrats are left wondering if Rauner is trying to intimidate them into voting with him or setting them up to take the blame for a plan that wasn’t ever going anywhere. We’ll find out soon.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.