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Political Wills Battle Contributes To Budget Impasse In Illinois


Illinois is in the grip of a battle of wills between its new Republican governor and the longtime head of the state's Democratic Party. It's an ideological clash that has left the state without a budget for weeks, with no sign of a budget deal anytime soon. And today, the rivals go at it again when the legislature votes on a bill challenging the governor. From member station WUIS in Springfield, Amanda Vinicky has the story.

AMANDA VINICKY, BYLINE: Who's at fault for the impasse that's gripping the state, of course, depends on whom you ask. For Governor Bruce Rauner, it falls at the feet of one man, and Rauner blames him as often as he can in TV commercials...


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Illinois is at a crossroads. Mike Madigan and the politicians he controls refuse to change.

VINICKY: At press gaggles...


BRUCE RAUNER: Speaker Madigan, he's got ice water in his veins.

VINICKY: And at rallies, like a recent one at the state fair.


RAUNER: You mess with my home, Speaker Madigan - you mess with my home, you've picked a fight with the wrong guy. You have picked a fight with the wrong guy.


VINICKY: In one corner - newly elected governor, Bruce Rauner, who arrived at the fair riding a Harley, a mega-wealthy private equity investor who is holding public office for the first time. In the other corner - Michael Madigan. He's not just the longest serving speaker of the Illinois House. With some 30 years in the job, he's the longest serving speaker in the nation. Madigan was born and bred in Chicago machine politics. It's still in the family. His daughter Lisa is Illinois's attorney general. Madigan isn't a politician who spends his time shaking hands and kissing babies. He operates mostly in private, has an army of loyalists and is known as disciplined and calculating. For example, here's Madigan's response to the governor's critiques of him.


MIKE MADIGAN: I'm going to continue my pledge to work cooperatively and professionally with the governor, and I am not dealing in name-calling. I'm not going to go there.

VINICKY: The nearest he's gotten recently is this.


MADIGAN: Democrats in the legislature today are engaged in an epic struggle with a Republican governor.

VINICKY: An epic struggle, Madigan says, against a governor who's trying to leverage the state budget into bringing down workers' wages to the benefit of big business. One of Rauner's goals is to diminish public employee union's power. While attacking unions has worked in neighboring Wisconsin, a Republican legislature had Governor Scott Walker's back. In Illinois, Democrats hold super majorities in both chambers of the general assembly. A key battle in that fight comes today as Rauner tries to kill legislation forbidding him from locking out workers if negotiations flounder. Rauner says he wouldn't do that, but Democratic State Senator Don Harmon says the real fear is that Rauner will demand workers accept completely unreasonable terms and force a strike.


DON HARMON: And then he will fire every state employee, just like Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers.

VINICKY: Rauner casts this fight as something else entirely. He says Madigan is trying to use his minions to strip the governor's authority. Whatever the House decides, the ramifications on workers' wages could be significant. But it'll also deepen the lines in the sand as this ugly state budget standoff continues. For NPR News, I'm Amanda Vinicky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amanda Vinicky