CHICAGO - The Illinois Senate returns to work Tuesday for a discussion on the state's property tax system with Gov. Bruce Rauner pushing for a local freeze as a condition to ending a budget stalemate.
Senators will hold a committee hearing on workers' compensation reforms before a committee-of-the-whole meeting at noon on property taxes, according to the office of Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat.
The Tuesday session marks the first time senators will return after the May 31 close of the regular session during which the Democratic majority pushed through a $36 billion budget short more than $3 billion on revenue.
Rancor between Democrats and the freshman Republican governor grew last week as both sides dug in their heels despite pledges of cooperation, raising further questions over whether their political differences can be bridged.
Rauner proposed deep cuts to eliminate a $6 billion deficit in the budget covering the fiscal year that begins July 1, and tied his support for any tax hikes to reduce the need for cuts to Democratic support for a scaled-down version of his turnaround agenda.
The governor is seeking a local property tax freeze, caps on civil judgments, worker's compensation reforms and constitutional amendments on term limits and redistricting. Democrats counter that the budget process shouldn't be used as leverage on those policy items.
On Thursday, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, called members back and they adopted a bill crafted by Democrats on worker's compensation reforms. Rauner slammed the package as phony even before the vote.
Passage of the bill in a party line 63-39 vote prompted a fresh round of attacks and counterattacks.
"This proposal ignores the most important reforms we need for our worker's compensation system, and in another instance, could actually undermine previous reform efforts. Sadly, instead of taking steps to make Illinois more competitive and job-friendly, this is another example of the Speaker and his allies putting politics ahead of the people," said Rauner spokesman Lance Trover.
The bill codifies existing practices. Rauner wants to raise the standard of "causation" on injuries and limit employer responsibility for some repetitive injuries. Those and other changes are aimed at lowering the costs of compensation insurance for businesses.
Madigan later held a news conference in which he largely reiterated his positions. He considers the budget deficit to be "the number one issue" facing the legislature and said the governor's interjection of non-budget issue is "functioning in the extreme."
Madigan wants a mix of cuts and new revenues to balance the budget. "The solution to the budget deficit problem will be in moderation .and it requires everybody be reasonable," he said.
Rauner and Madigan had met earlier on Thursday and while Madigan publicly says he will continue to work cooperatively with Rauner, his comments cast a dim view on the potential for compromise.
The measures being pushed by Rauner "go to the core beliefs" of lawmakers, he said. Democrats believe the measures, as proposed by Rauner, hurt the middle class while Rauner believes they would improve the state's economy and help the middle class.
Madigan said Rauner's workers' compensation reforms would force some on to welfare and into emergency rooms. "The majority of the people in the legislature don't want to go in that direction," he said.
On the impending Tuesday session, the Rauner administration would say only: "Illinois homeowners pay the second highest property taxes in the nation and are in desperate need of the property tax freeze that Governor Rauner has proposed." Rauner wants a freeze with voter approval needed to raise taxes.
Rauner told his cabinet Wednesday the state must prepare for operating and cash flow challenges if a stalemate over the fiscal 2016 budget isn't resolved. "We are going to be facing very serious operating and cash flow challenges," Rauner said, and the state must prepare contingency plans "and get ready for the very possibility that we are facing a cash crisis."
Rauner also said his administration would continue to announce cost-saving measures. Earlier in the week, he targeted some tax credits, land grants, state police vehicle purchases, juvenile correctional centers, and state museums for cuts. He also nixed the proposed public-private partnership Illiana Corridor toll project. Those and other cuts are aimed at saving $400 million.
Rating agency analysts and investors are watching closely to see how the state resolves its budget mess. Illinois is the lowest rated state at the A-minus level.