SPRINGFIELD – Emerging from the first legislative leaders meeting in months, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said his fellow leaders recognize the urgency of reaching a budget deal and that Sunday’s meeting should fuel new optimism that it will happen soon.

Asked by reporters if the people of Illinois should be more or less optimistic after the meeting, the Senate President replied: “I would say more.”

When asked why he felt that way, he said, “Because we couldn’t even get a meeting a couple days ago.”

Indeed, Sunday’s afternoon's meeting of the Republican and Democratic leaders from the Senate and House was the first of its kind this year.

Governor Bruce Rauner pulled the plug on budget meetings with the legislative leaders back in December, arguing that he didn’t think Democrats were serious about a budget deal.

Just weeks later, the Senate leaders unveiled a sweeping set of financial and governmental reforms dubbed the Grand Bargain in an effort to shake loose a state budget after a nearly two-year impasse. The Senate Democrats went on to pass a balanced budget plan. Even the House Republican leader has acknowledged that the Senate has “done their work.”

Senate President Cullerton told reporters Sunday that the meeting was civil and he would be briefing Senate Democrats on developments in advance of another leaders meeting being scheduled.

Asked if the governor would attend future leaders meetings, Cullerton said: “That’s up to the governor. He’s the one that calls those meetings.”

The Senate President again noted that the Illinois Senate had already approved all the issues the governor cited in convening Special Sessions of the General Assembly.

Senate President John J. Cullerton

SPRINGFIELD — With time running out on lawmakers’ spring session, Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton attempted to jumpstart bipartisan budget action only to have Governor Rauner and Republicans block progress.

Cullerton’s efforts come as the General Assembly draws ever closer to a May 31 deadline on a budget and Gov. Bruce Rauner risks entering a third straight budget year with no state budget and a mountain of unpaid bills that recently topped $13 billion.

Rauner pulled the plug on budget talks last December even as an emergency deal was about to expire. There has been no state spending plan in place since January 1. Senate leaders stepped in to fill the leadership void and began piecing together a sweeping reform and financial plan intended to end the impasse and stabilize the state’s economy.

Initially, the Senate made great progress.

Nearly half of the deal — including key provisions for reducing government, opening up economic development opportunities and cutting bureaucratic red tape — won approval at the end of February. But with the rest of the deal positioned for success on March 1, word came down that Rauner was pulling nearly all the Republican support off the plan. Without those votes, the plan, which was put together by Republicans and Democrats, couldn’t advance.

While there had been numerous meetings and claims of progress over the ensuing months, nothing had been voted on since the end of February. Cullerton decided last week that the Senate had waited long enough and it was time for action.

“Every day there’s not a budget, the state spends itself another $11 million into debt. March 1 was 71 days ago. It is now May 10. After today, there are 20 days left before our scheduled adjournment on May 31,” the Senate President told the Senate. “I don’t think we can wait any longer. I believe the public’s patience is wearing thin. One way or another, it’s time to vote.”

The Senate did approve a provision to give local government greater flexibility in borrowing, something that should result in lower interest rates on financing and result in local taxpayer savings.

But efforts to vote on and advance reforms to the state benefit system for injured workers and a local property tax freeze stalled because Republicans refused to let the Senate vote on the plans. Republican senators said they needed more time to tinker with the provisions before they would consider voting.

Cullerton said the Senate will keep working and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to realize time is running out, recognize the opportunity for compromise and seize it to help save the state’s economy.

You can watch the Senate President answer reporters’ questions here:

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said police across Illinois have a hard enough job to do without trying to double as federal immigration officers. Cullerton is sponsoring SB 31, known as the Trust Act, that clarifies the limited circumstances for when law enforcement in Illinois would check immigration status. The proposal is designed to foster trust between police and immigrant communities and refocus resources on fighting priority crimes.

“If someone is going to be detained in Illinois it should be because an actual crime has occurred, not because of how they look, what they believe or what paperwork they may or may not have. This proposal reinforces the message that our immigrant neighbors are in fact part of our community. It is my hope that this legislation will enhance interaction between the immigrant community and state and local police to improve safety and the quality of life for all Illinoisans,” said Cullerton.

jjc 042717SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton received the “Visionary Leadership Award” for his work to promote tolerance and diversity from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago as part of Thursday’s ninth annual Illinois Muslim Action Day.

In presenting the award, council co-founder and Chairman Dr. Bassam Osman cited President Cullerton’s current efforts to pass the Illinois Trust Act. It would clarify that Illinois law enforcement will not participate in detaining people for federal authorities unless a warrant has been issued.

President Cullerton thanked the council for its help over the years in working on legislation and programs to encourage diversity. One of the first things Cullerton did upon becoming Senate President in 2009 was start a Senate page program so students participating in the annual Illinois Muslim Action Day at the Capitol could learn more about state government.

“I started this program with the help of your organization to set the foundation for future conversations, because by talking to each other we learn to appreciate our differences and discover our similarities,” Cullerton said.

“The history of Illinois is one of coming to terms with ethnic and religious differences. Our future relies on a similar commitment to protect and honor religious freedom,” Cullerton said. “As we know too well, threats still exist. There are still those who seek to distort public discourse in a desperate attempt to slow the sands of time from burying their ignorance and intolerance to the forgotten depths of history.

“But, whether they like it or not, change happens,” he said. “We are a people, a society, a government that ultimately exists to expand and accept.”

More about the Illinois Trust Act: http://abc7chicago.com/news/illinois-trust-act-aims-to-protect-immigrants/1833325/