JOLIET — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — arguably the most powerful politician in Springfield — made a rare appearance Friday night in Joliet to address labor leaders of Will and Grundy counties.
And to give, as he called it, his “side of the story” as to why Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and a Democrat-controlled majority remain deadlocked in a 10-month budget impasse.
“The governor's advocacy of these non-budget issues — workers' compensation, collective bargaining, prevailing wage – in my judgment, runs contrary to the core beliefs of both Democrats and Republicans,” Madigan said before a packed International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 176 West Banquet Hall. “Because advocacy of these issues would reduce wages for … middle class families and send injured workers to the emergency room and to the welfare program.”
Madigan, who's served as speaker of the Illinois House for 31 of the last 33 years, was the keynote speaker Friday night for the Will-Grundy Central Trades and Labor Council AFL-CIO's 38th annual dinner. Local, state and federal elected officials from both political parties were in attendance.
Madigan said he pledged from day one to work closely and cooperatively with Rauner, noting he has a long record of working with other governors — both Democrats and Republicans — but this time, things are different, he said.
“Thompson, Edgar, Ryan. I've worked with a lot of governors. We've never had this difficult of situation. Never,” he said.
Rauner, he said, is holding the budget hostage with the goal of stripping away union powers and collective bargaining rights. The Republican governor won't consider new revenue unless Democrats agree to his Turnaround Agenda.
Faced with ballooning pension obligations and a $6.9 billion backlog for the current fiscal year – which started July 1 of last year – Madigan said it's impossible for Illinois to cut its way out of the deficit.
“You take all of that, you add it up. It's very obvious that Illinois is awash in debt. The state is swimming in debt,” Madigan said.
Charlie Hanus, president of the Will-Grundy Counties Central Trades Council, lauded Madigan for his support of union rights.
“You look where we'd be at today without Mike Madigan there, that we'd be just a neighbor state. Right to work. Depressed wages. Everybody out of work. It'd be terrible. In the last line of the defense for many years has been Mike Madigan,” Hanus said.
He also called on labor supporters and union members to retain seats in the House and Senate during the upcoming November election
“We gotta work our tails off this fall because if we lose the majority and let Rauner buy this election and we lose control, every one of us in this room, we're done. We're done,” Hanus said. “Everybody needs to put the wheel to the grindstone.”
Will County Democratic Caucus Chair Herbert Brooks, D-Joliet, said it was quite the rare appearance from Madigan, but a pleasant surprise.
“It is rare. We feel privileged to have him here tonight,” Brooks said. “I'm surprised he came.”
The fact that Madigan showed up in Joliet on Friday night is “a real credit to the trades here,” Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk said.
“He doesn't speak at a lot of events, but he came out to the trades in Joliet tonight to give a fair representation of how he sees things in Springfield,” O'Dekirk said.