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Senate President urges Republicans to end the impasse (VIDEO)

Senate President John J. Cullerton

The state’s lingering budget stalemate could end quickly if Republican lawmakers would prioritize a balanced budget deal over their political allegiance to Governor Bruce Rauner, Senate President John J. Cullerton told reporters on Friday.

“This could all be over if the will is there,” Cullerton said at a Capitol news conference. His comments come as the state creeps ever closer to a third year without a budget under Rauner, who the Wall Street Journal recently dubbed ‘Governor Junk.’

“The pressure is really on the Republicans in the House, and I think they really want to get this done as well,” said Cullerton.

The Illinois Senate approved a balanced budget and reform plans last month, but the Illinois House has not yet reached agreement on the budget plan. With the initial May 31 deadline past, it now requires 71 votes in the 118-member House to approve a budget deal. That gives the political minority Republicans a share of the driver’s seat.

If Republicans could reach a bipartisan deal with Democrats in the House, that deal could be added onto the framework the Senate already passed and quickly approved, perhaps even in a day. Instead of negotiating a deal, Rauner and his Republican allies have focused on a new series of proposals that not only require far longer to get approved but are also inherently out of balance since they forgot to file any proposal to pay for the spending.

Cullerton called for “an intervention” among Republicans in the House to work on a balanced budget and get it approved before the state’s budget year runs out next week.

The Senate President also derided as a “political stunt” a series of Special Sessions the governor ordered to force lawmakers back to the Capitol, even though the Senate already addressed all the issues he listed.

“Everything the special session would do, we have done in the Senate,” Cullerton said. “I think they were unfortunately designed to be a political stunt to give the governor cover.”

Cullerton also criticized the governor for again intervening and pulling Republicans out of a planned meeting of legislative leaders. The Senate President said these meetings are key because the four leaders have a history of being able to work together to get results.

Lightford has “deep concern” over latest revelation of Rauner mismanagement

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford

Failing $94 Million Online Healthcare Contract Excludes Minority Business Opportunity

SPRINGFIELD — Chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Chicago) today expressed deep concern over an Associated Press report that suggests that Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration took action to purposely exclude state guidelines aimed at encouraging minority-owned business opportunities in an effort to steer a nearly $100 million taxpayer-funded contract to a private company that is charged with creating online efficiency in state employee health insurance processing.

The news story, published on Sunday, highlights that the system was hastily designed and has caused serious difficulties in managing health care records of potentially hundreds of thousands of public employees and retirees. In addition, the investigation exposes the Rauner administration’s efforts to award the massive contract to Georgia-based company Morneau Shepell in what appears to be a favored contractor:

“Documents show CMS staff members were told to proceed without following guidelines for ensuring minority-owned business participation,” the AP story says.

“Bruce Rauner might have purchased the Illinois Republican Party, but he doesn’t own the State of Illinois,” Lightford says. “It’s outrageous to discover that he thinks it’s perfectly legitimate to misuse the trust of taxpayers to skirt rules aimed at giving all qualified businesses an equal playing field.”

Lightford says she is discussing the possibility of utilizing part of Governor Rauner’s 10-day Special Session mandate to conduct a hearing on the failures of the Morneau Shepell contract as well as the procedures and decisions for discarding procurement rules.  

“I don’t care if Bruce Rauner doesn’t like the long-established requirements to include and consider minority and woman owned businesses, I care that he decided to simply discard them,” said Lightford. “There’s a need for accountability here and I suspect questions will need good answers. We should do that in a public hearing, not behind the Governor’s preferred closed doors.”

Throughout the past six months a number of news investigations have highlighted serious flaws in the judgement of Rauner officials when it comes to hiring and contracting. Already, the Illinois Senate Appropriations Committees have held in-depth hearings on what appear to be multi-million dollar insider leasing schemes to store supplies like paper in private warehouses.