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Jul 22, 4:57 PM EDT

Cullerton says time to hit 'reset' on state budget talks

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AP Photo/Seth Perlman

CHICAGO (AP) -- Senate President John Cullerton said it's time to "hit the reset button" on budget talks and challenged Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday to offer a new spending plan after rejecting most of what legislative Democrats sent him.

The Chicago Democrat also used his first high-profile news conference since May to dismiss Rauner's claims that a stalemate over a July 1 fiscal year budget could be easier resolved without House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Much of the public bickering during overtime legislative sessions on the budget has been between Rauner and Madigan. In weekly news conferences, the Democrat paints proposed pro-business agenda items Rauner wants before a budget agreement as "extreme." But Rauner, who blames Madigan for the impasse, says Democrats are continuing on the wrong financial path. Rauner told reporters Tuesday he'd negotiate better if dealing with only Cullerton.

But Cullerton disagreed.

"He's not negotiating with me on the budget, that's why I'm here," Cullerton told reporters. "I don't know what he's talking about."

Cullerton said negotiating shouldn't be as difficult now because more than half of the budget is already being paid, including education spending Rauner signed and social services mandated by court orders. But he predicted ramifications, like another credit downgrade, if a full spending plan isn't in place soon. He said Democrats have discussed some of Rauner's agenda, like a property tax freeze, but it was time to scrap "sideshows" for the budget.

"The governor spent his time in office prioritizing a corporate agenda that will satisfy his corporate friends," Cullerton said. "While some of these ideas are worthy of debate, the governor has been unable to provide one shred of evidence that his agenda adds one cent to the ledger for our budget crisis in the short term or to elevate our credit rankings in the long term."

Rauner has said proposals lawmakers generated don't go far enough. His office issued a rebuttal before Cullerton's speech ended.

"Rather than moving our state backward to the failed tax-and-spend policies of the past, we urge President Cullerton to work with us to pass meaningful structural reforms to change the fiscal trajectory of our state," said spokesman Lance Trover.

Cullerton blasted Rauner's proposed budget in February as flawed, calculating cuts not allowed by law, among other things. Democrats then sent Rauner a budget they acknowledged was billions short on revenue with the hopes that the first-term governor would approve new taxes. Rauner vetoed much of it and said he won't sign a temporary budget bill lawmakers approved as a stop-gap measure.

But Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said Democrats need to step up.

"I really don't think we need another document to get this discussion rolling again," she told reporters. "What we need is honest-to-goodness engagement from the Democrats on the reform issues. The budget piece of this is the easy part of the problem, that's a math problem."

The Senate meets Aug. 4.


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