CHICAGO (FOX 32 / AP) - It appears certain now that Illinois will enter the New Year without an approved budget.
The latest budget discussions between Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders touched on the state's pension crisis and school funding reform but was missing one key player: House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan didn't attend the latest meeting Thursday aimed at ending a budget stalemate now in its sixth month because he had a scheduling conflict, according to his spokesman, Steve Brown. He declined to elaborate, but insisted that Madigan was committed to finding a solution to the budget gridlock.
"He makes every effort to attend these meetings," Brown said.
Rep. Madigan's absence may reflect what other Democrats say he's indicated to them: a comprehensive agreement with Rauner is unlikely until after next year's elections. Republicans expressed frustration.
"We're not gonna get any further down the road, unless we have everyone in this room," said Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs.
It was the third budget meeting in as many weeks as lawmakers and Rauner try to find agreement on a spending plan.
Rauner insists his proposed Turnaround Agenda be dealt with first. Republicans said five things were on the table today: Term Limits, Redistricting Reform, Public Employee Pensions, Workers Compensation, and Illinois' Public School Funding, the latter at the insistence of Democratic Senate President John Cullerton.
The state has been operating without one since July 1 and both parties remain deadlocked on how to proceed. Democrats who control the Legislature want a tax increase combined with spending cuts to plug a multibillion budget shortfall.
At this rate, officials say, the state's stack of unpaid bills will be $8 billion high by the end of the current fiscal year, next June.
Most of the budget harm has fallen on social service agencies, following a plan Rauner laid out in remarks made long before he took office.
Rauner wants changes in laws to make business operations cheaper and to curb union power. He also wants term limits and changes to how legislative districts are drawn every decade.
Republican leaders Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin described Thursday's meeting as productive but took turns noting Madigan's absence.
"I thought it was a good conversation. But the fact is we're not going to move this along unless we all are fully participating and actively involved in these negotiations," Durkin said. He said he didn't get an explanation of what Madigan's scheduling conflict was.
"We covered quite a bit in there, despite having the speaker not be at the meeting," Radogno said.
Rauner and Cullerton didn't comment after the meeting in Chicago.
Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the senator was "encouraged by the fact there was a robust discussion on school funding reform."
Brown defended Madigan's absence, saying the speaker has been "fully involved" in budget discussions. He said the governor was notified in advance that Madigan would not be able to attend the meeting, but Brown couldn't say when the notification occurred.
With the end of Rauner's first year approaching, Republicans said things have not gone as expected.
"Well, I think he's managed it the best he can. I don't think that anyone expected him to be stonewalled the way that he has been," said Radogno.