Illinois budget talks fizzle amid partisan entrenchment

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Bipartisan talks to reach a fiscal 2017 budget for Illinois ahead of a Tuesday deadline have derailed as the state’s Republican governor and top Democrat refused to budge from their demands.

The two sides have been at an impasse since last year, leaving Illinois as the only state without a complete budget for the fiscal year that ends on June 30. Bipartisan, rank-and-file working groups pushed by Governor Bruce Rauner have been meeting, with sporadic reports that progress was being made on a budget for the new fiscal year.

But following a short meeting on Friday with the governor, legislative leaders made it clear that common ground has not been reached.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno accused Democrats of pulling the plug on negotiations.

“They want to push the balanced budget issue reforms off into the fall, after the election,” she told reporters. “It’s clear their priority is political and not for the good of the state.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan defended the budget passed by Democrats in his chamber this week, saying he is not willing to hold residents “hostage” while the governor expands his demands for pro-business and anti-union reforms.

“There will be a complaint the state does not have sufficient money to pay for that budget,” Madigan said. “And I’ve said for the last year and a half, I’m prepared to negotiate with the governor to find the money to pay for those services.”

House Republicans blasted the $14.1 billion general funds budget passed on Wednesday and again on Thursday by Democrats as being $7.2 billion short on revenue because the spending plan does not include big costs like pensions and debt payments.

Madigan, who has advocated a so-called millionaires’ tax, said his first revenue choice would be taxing the wealthy through exclusions and deductions in the Illinois income tax code, including the earned income tax credit.

Rauner contended negotiations were continuing. But he warned that the fifth-largest U.S. state must stop spending money it does not have.

“We’ll never have balanced budgets if we don’t grow our economy and we need reforms to grow our economy, get more jobs and higher family incomes,” he said.

House Republicans pleaded with Democrats during Friday’s session to break with Madigan and continue to work with them.

“My request is that you don’t give up,” said House Republican Jim Durkin, who added that a deal was close.

(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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