SPRINGFIELD — Good-government groups are urging the governor and four legislative leaders to work together toward an inclusive, bipartisan agenda for a potential Nov. 18 public meeting.
“A meeting agenda that reflects this bipartisan effort and encompasses all issues is necessary to produce a positive outcome,” Susan Garrett of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform wrote Wednesday to the governor and four leaders on behalf of eight civic organizations.
“A meeting on November 18th with an agenda developed by all parties could lead to an important resolution for our state,” she said.
The meeting began taking shape last week when the civic groups suggested the five officials get together in one place — something that hasn’t happened since May — and offered to facilitate the meeting.
The Republican governor’s office liked the idea, but also said the state’s chief executive would take the lead, host the meeting and distribute an agenda.
That’s apparently given pause to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, whose spokesman has said the speaker — who suggested the meeting be public — wants to see an agenda before further committing.
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office on Wednesday declined comment on the latest letter from the civic groups.
“The meeting agenda will be the best predictor of the meeting’s productivity,” Senate Democrat spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said via email Wednesday. “If the governor truly wants to end the budget stalemate, he will be open to an inclusive process that focuses on immediate state budget solutions.”
Several political analysts told Illinois News Network that the sides will have to show movement from their current stances if the meeting is to give Illinois even a nudge toward breaking from its budget impasse.
If the governor says “Turnaround Agenda Only!” or if Democrats say, “Budget Only!” then nothing has changed, said Jim Nowlan, a former Republican member of the House and a retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
Professor Chris Mooney, director of that institute, said pre-meeting talks on the agenda might not be a bad idea, and some talks before the talks are probably not out of the question and perhaps even to be expected.
Mooney compared the public event — if the meeting does pan out that way — to something like a state dinner. Generally, barring a major gaffe, everyone attending has a fairly good idea beforehand of what will be said and how everyone will behave.
“Working on these items beforehand could give them something positive to talk about at the meeting in public,” Mooney said.
There may also be areas in the details, the fine print so to speak, where there could be room for movement.
But neither side, Mooney added, is likely to entirely surrender the points it holds most dear. If Rauner were to completely let go of his agenda items, for instance, the first-term governor would be seen as having held up the state budget for nothing.
In any case, Mooney said, the push for a public meeting isn’t pointless.
First, Illinois (concluding its fourth month without a budget) can hardly end up in a worse spot than where it sits today, Mooney said.
“Where are we now?” Mooney asked. “We’re stuck.”
And, he said, maybe the additional public pressure means the sides have to start talking.
“And who knows? Maybe they’re ready to do that,” he said.
But government-watchers including Mooney, Nowlan and Kent Redfield of the U of I Springfield also warn that if the script remains talking points versus talking points, then Illinois remains budgetless.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network.