Spring session underway; Lawmakers gather for budget talks

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Republicans and Democrats come back to the bargaining table, with a long list of things on the agenda.

The spring session is underway at the Capitol. Lawmakers are working on women’s issues, guns and a possible capital bill. But first, they need to see if they can do a budget.

On Thursday morning, the Springfield leaders gathered for budget talks.

Republicans emerged from the meeting encouraged.

“The governor was wise to call this meeting and get the ball rolling,” Sen. Republican Leader Bill Brady said.

Both sides agreed to appoint budget negotiators and to come up with an estimate of revenue Illinois would collect next fiscal year.

With the November election looming, it’s anyone’s guess whether lawmakers can strike a deal. Bad feelings remain after the epic 736-day budget impasse that ended last summer.

But Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, said at least the key players are talking.

“It’s better than we had for the last – for that two-year period when there was no budget at all. So that’s a positive thing,” Cullerton said.

Governor Bruce Rauner, who has put forth his own plan pushing massive cuts and pension reform to roll back last year’s tax hike, says he’s willing to be flexible.

“A truly balanced budget, a full year budget not a partial year budget and no new tax increase,” Rauner said.

So will Speaker Madigan play ball? In a statement, he didn’t sound particularly optimistic, saying:

“Governor Rauner has resorted to severe cuts targeting women, children and the elderly. If the governor’s agenda is to push more of his extreme cuts, he should stay on the sidelines.”

Rauner dismissed those comments.

“Today, there was some I heard hyperbole when some came out to speak with you. Political hyperbole,” Rauner said.

In campaign news, Rauner’s rival, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, appeared at an event on Thursday in Chicago with Hillary Clinton. For his part, Rauner is still working to repair relations with his primary rival Jeanne Ives. On Thursday, he described a brief conversation he had with Ives at a Springfield microbrew.

“I saw her at a table across the restaurant and I went over to say hello and to wish her well and to tell her I look forward to getting together,” Rauner said.

They’ve not sat down since the election. Lawmakers have until May 31 to strike a budget deal or we go into overtime like we did last year.