SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's vision of a swift, postelection budget compromise is off to a rocky start after a key Democratic leader cited a last-minute "schedule conflict" as the reason for missing a meeting the Republican governor requested.
Republican leaders who met with Rauner on Monday blasted Democrats for their absence and said they need to be engaged to move forward.
"It is completely inexcusable," said Republican Sen. Christine Radogno, the GOP's Senate leader.
Late Monday, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, told reporters that Madigan will meet with Rauner and other legislative leaders on Tuesday.
Rauner said last week he was "cautiously optimistic" when he asked House and Senate leaders to meet to begin work on ending a 16-month budget standoff, but the absence of ruling Democrats shows how challenging it continues to be to find compromise.
The political standoff has led to cuts to social service providers, some of whom have shut down altogether, and an uncertain future for higher education institutions that are receiving less funding than they have in the past.
The governor called the meeting days after Election Day, when Republicans diminished the Democrats' numbers in the Legislature with Rauner's financial backing. The day before the meeting was set to take place, Rauner got a response from Madigan.
"A short time ago, I determined a schedule conflict will prevent a meeting with the governor and other legislative leaders," Madigan said in a statement Sunday evening. "We will continue to work to schedule a meeting and look forward to getting an agenda for the meeting from the governor."
Madigan did not provide details of the conflict.
"I can't imagine what conflict is more important than the challenges facing the people of this state," Radogno said.
After Madigan's announcement, Senate President John Cullerton bowed out, saying the meeting wouldn't be productive without everyone there. He said he hoped the meeting could be rescheduled for Tuesday.
Last December, Madigan also said a scheduling conflict kept him from attending one of the governor's budget meetings. He didn't say what the conflict was then, either.
Lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday for a brief, annual fall session after one of the most expensive and contentious election cycles in Illinois history. Rauner used about $30 million of his personal wealth to support GOP candidates in last week's elections, giving money to both political committees and individuals, forcing Democrats to raise unprecedented amounts of money to compete with his millions.
Although Republicans made gains in the Legislature, Democrats still have considerable majorities in each chamber and have resisted Rauner's demands for union-weakening, business-friendly legislation as part of any budget deal. Rauner has argued his ideas are meant to grow the state's economy, but Democrats have said his policies would harm middle-class families.