Democrats have been privately grumbling for a while now that Governor Bruce Rauner isn’t truly interested in good-faith negotiations on a balanced budget with economic reforms to end the two-and-a-half-year Statehouse stalemate.

But Senate President John Cullerton spent days and days negotiating the details of a four-year property-tax freeze with Rauner, only to have his spokesperson tell me last week that he hadn’t acceded to Rauner’s demand for a four-year freeze. So Rauner isn’t the only one to blame.

The thin-skinned Statehouse partisanship of the past two-plus years last week infected the annual fundraising gala of the Illinois Conference of Women Legislators (COWL).

COWL is a bipartisan organization that raises money every year to “assist mature women who wish to continue their undergraduate education,” according to its Web site. “The goal of the scholarship is to focus on deserving, qualified women whose educations were interrupted due to family concerns and economic problems,” the group says. Women who have shown “leadership promise through community service” are given preference.

Anyway, it’s a good organization and it’s one of two events that I never miss each year – the other one being the House-versus-Senate softball game. Both events allow legislators to do things together without partisan or leadership barriers. They help build relationships and trust. Plus, they’re both a lot of fun. And after two and a half years of watching politicians fight each other to a draw on a state budget and economic reforms, we all need the occasional good time.

Illinois has elected just two wealthy people to major statewide office in the past 20 years: former U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald and current Governor Bruce Rauner.

Both candidates won because they ran as firm, anti-establishment outsiders. Fitzgerald was best known as a state senator in the 1990s for railing against the elders who ran his Republican Party, including many who had been supplying the GOP with loads of money over the years and who’d used their positions to handsomely profit from state business. Rauner also ran against his party’s insiders when he launched his campaign, dismissing them as bought and paid for by Springfield’s special interests.

What establishment-party support both men did receive mostly came at the end of their general-election campaigns. Their personal finances, which allowed them to self-fund, kept them free of establishment taint, and that independence gave both of them credibility as outsiders. As election day neared, some establishment GOP figures decided they’d better swallow their pride and get on board. The establishment needed the insurgents more than the insurgents needed the establishment.

Billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker isn’t following this pattern as he campaigns for governor.

In normal times, a 40-minute late-April meeting to talk about the budget between a governor and the House speaker would be so routine that it would likely go unnoticed by pretty much everyone under the Statehouse dome. These ain’t normal times.

A funded, full-year state budget has not passed during a spring legislative session since 2013, almost exactly four years ago. We’ve had partial-year or “stopgap” budgets ever since.

And House Speaker Michael Madigan hasn’t formally met with the governor since December 6, about five months ago. Governor Bruce Rauner announced at the time there would be no more similar meetings until the Democrats were prepared to offer up a balanced budget with specific reforms – something that the governor hasn’t done since, either.

Illinois now has five public universities with junk-bond credit ratings. That has to be some kind of record.

Last week, S&P Global Ratings lowered the credit score of both Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University into junk-bond status. Eastern, Northeastern, and Governor’s State were already in junk-bond territory, and their ratings were lowered even further last week. The University of Illinois, the state’s flagship, was also downgraded to just three notches above junk status and put, with the rest of the universities, on a “credit watch with negative implications” – meaning it could be downgraded again within 90 days.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner denied that his two-day tour of the state last week had anything to do with the 2018 election, but it was pretty darned clear that he and his team were tuning up the band for the big show down the road.

Campaign funds not only paid for the tour, but political money was used to promote in it advance. I'm told Rauner's advertising on social and online media served more than a million impressions in the days leading up to the fly-around.

I suppose it’s too much to expect that we get an honest debate about the need for more state revenues in the already-active gubernatorial race. Candidates will be candidates, after all.

Governor Bruce Rauner’s campaign blasted out an e-mail last week telling supporters that newly announced billionaire Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker wants to raise the state income tax to over 5 percent, which, the campaign claimed, would be “higher than it was under Pat Quinn!”

Never mind that Rauner himself privately supports raising state taxes to historically high levels. He’s okay with a 4.99-percent income-tax rate and a 7-percent corporate tax rate. But he also backs a new tax on sugary beverages and a new sales tax on several services. If all that were implemented, state government would be taxing residents billions of dollars more than it ever has before.

As the Senate’s two leaders tried again to find the votes to pass their “grand bargain” last week and end the state’s two-year governmental gridlock, Governor Bruce Rauner began spending more than a million dollars on two new TV ads that portray him as an everyman hero in the fight for Illinois’ future.

“Illinois is broke and broken,” Rauner says to the camera while standing in a well-kept garage and wearing a plaid flannel shirt. “And the politicians that got us into this mess, their solution is this,” Rauner says as he holds up a roll of duct tape. “Higher taxes,” he says as he yanks out a piece of duct tape. “More spending,” he says with another jerk on the roll. “No real reforms,” he says as he takes one more strong pull.

You might have heard about a recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll that found that Governor Bruce Rauner’s job disapproval ratings have almost doubled in the past two years, from 31 percent in March 2015 to 58 percent this month. According to the poll, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s current disapproval rating is 61 percent, about the same as his 63-percent disapproval rating last October. Rauner’s disapproval rating last October was 55 percent.

During this long governmental impasse, Madigan has championed the cause of unions and working people against the governor’s attempts to take rights and benefits away from them. But the Democrat is actually underwater with union members. According to the Simon poll, 55 percent of respondents who said they belong to a union disapprove of Madigan’s job performance, including 38 percent who strongly disapprove. Just 34 percent of union members approve of his job performance, while only 12 percent strongly approve. All this pain and they still don’t like him.

But union members dislike the governor far more. The poll found that 72 percent of union members disapprove of Rauner’s job performance, and half of union members strongly disapprove. Only 24 percent approve. On Rauner, anyway, the union message has gotten out.

If Attorney General Lisa Madigan succeeds in convincing the Illinois Supreme Court to consider ordering the state to stop paying employees without an appropriation, and if Governor Bruce Rauner’s legal team uses the same arguments it did in St. Clair County, it will be important to understand the repercussions of his strategy.

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