Special session first major step after changes
One of Gov. Bruce Rauner's first acts after a major shake-up of his staff was to call a special session to try to force action on an education funding bill on which he's at odds with the Legislature.
The first 3 days featured little movement, with more time spent in dueling press conferences. Lawmakers met over the weekend to try to negotiate before Rauner's promised veto of the bill.
Opinions differ on whether it was wise for Rauner to call the special session, and on how his new top staff members might be affecting his administration.
"I don't know if this new staff ... knows what special sessions are," said former Gov. Jim Edgar. "I mean, they're completely from outside of state government."
Rauner said he would issue an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1 because he believes it gives too much money to Chicago Public Schools. Rauner initially rejected a proposal from Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, that they meet to discuss the bill before Cullerton sent it. But on Friday, Rauner called for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to negotiate.
Even though there is a state budget, the formula bill is needed to allow the state to make payments to public schools from kindergarten through high school.
The session comes after Rauner made major staff changes 3 weeks ago, including bringing his new chief of staff, Kristina Rasmussen, and other officials including Michael Lucci, his new deputy chief of staff for policy, from the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute.
Edgar said that although he hasn't had a discussion with Rauner in about 2 years, he believes the special session call was Rauner's decision, and may have been in the cards before the new staff was brought on.
But Edgar also said it's best to call all lawmakers to Springfield when action is ready to be taken.
"Special session is pretty much a PR thing unless you have something worked out," Edgar said. "If you really want to get something done, you're going to have to sit down and talk."
But state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said Rauner needed to call the session.
"I think it's worth it because you've got to put pressure on the Democrats to do something with the bill," Butler said, noting that through a parliamentary move, Democrats failed for weeks to transmit the school aid formula bill to the governor.
Rauner called 10 special session days beginning in late June to seek a budget, and a few days beyond that original schedule, final action on budget bills came with overrides of his vetoes. On the school funding question, Rauner called three special session days last week and another one for Monday.
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, is chief sponsor of SB 1, the school funding formula bill in play. Manar also is former chief of staff to the Senate president.
Manar recalled that Gov. Rod Blagojevich often called lawmakers into session to try to force action not already negotiated. Blagojevich called at least 40 special sessions, including two in one day at least once. At times, just a few lawmakers would show up and the sessions would be quickly gaveled in and gaveled out.
"Governor Blagojevich ran around downstate and complained about downstate Democrats not standing up to party leadership, and he turned around and called special sessions that were not productive," Manar said after the second special session day last week. "That's what this is. This is not productive."
Chris Mooney, political science professor at the University of Illinois, Springfield, said it's possible both governors "really didn't understand what the role of the special session or the role of the Legislature was," as a deal needs to be done before action is taken.
"In terms of developing policy, it doesn't get developed on the floor," said Mooney, who recently stepped down as director of the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs to return to teaching. "That's not where they figure these things out."
But, he added, the governors may have understood that but were using the sessions "to put pressure on the Legislature, to make them look bad."
Edgar said he sees a difference in that Blagojevich, who often fought with a fellow Democrat, House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago, was "kind of irrelevant to a great extent. I mean the Democrats kind of rolled over him when they had to. ... He wasn't as engaged. I will say that Rauner is engaged."
But, Edgar added of Rauner, "Sometimes I think he has his point of view and that's it. You don't get that, especially when you have the Legislature controlled by the other party. There's got to be some give and take."
Butler said he's hoping that legislators can negotiate and "figure something out."
"We've seen in the past where ... despite the differences we have in the current climate, when we're in session, we do get some things done," he said.
Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, said last week she was hoping for a quicker transmission of the bill to Rauner by the Democrats.
"People are going to have to come out of their corners and shake hands and figure out what's going to be the fairest thing we can do for all the kids in the state," Jimenez said. "There seems to be a lot of political maneuvering from the Democrats because they aren't sending the bill."
As to Rauner's staff shakeup, Manar said he thinks the new people will make their mark on the administration.
"That's why you have a staff," Manar said. "That's why you surround yourself with people that you expect to ... help you navigate this terrain. ... So of course it's influencing his decisions."
Edgar said he thinks there should be different points of view on a staff.
"I'm not sure I'd want to put all my eggs in one basket," he said.
But, he added, "Everybody's got advice for the governor. He's got to decide who to listen to. That's his prerogative."
Mooney said that generally speaking, "staff reflect the personality and the interests of the principal, rather than the other way around."
"People might say, 'Oh, he's bringing in IPI [the policy institute], and they are going to turn him into some kid of right-wing nut job," Mooney added. "But really he has chosen to bring these people on."
Mooney also noted that Rauner has been a significant contributor to the institute, donating $625,000 between 2009 and 2013.
"So nobody's making him do anything he doesn't want to do," Mooney said. "I'm pretty sure of that."
"I don't see a lot of change in the governor's actions in the last couple weeks," Mooney also said. "I mean, he's basically doing what he's been doing all along ... maybe growing increasingly frustrated with the process."
In Auburn earlier this month, as he was promising to call the school funding special session if he didn't receive Senate Bill 1 on his desk, Rauner rejected the idea that his staff has an ideological tilt.
"I just want people who are talented and driven and want to reform our broken system," Rauner said. "I've got Democrats in my administration. I've got Republicans. I've got the whole cross-spectrum. I don't care about partisanship, and nobody tells me what my policies are – nobody. I work for the people of Illinois, and if anybody wonders what I'm fighting for, you can look up what I've stood for for 5 years, and you can see my 44-point turnaround plan for the state."
He said that plan includes term limits, workers' compensation changes and pension reform.
"Nobody's changing me," he said. "We need to fix the system."