The Illinois Legislature's spring legislative session will be remembered as a divisive one in which Democrats who had controlled state government for 12 years suddenly had to start dealing with a Republican who has a mountain of campaign cash to burn.

But now it is summer and the toughness Gov. Bruce Rauner and his staff showed in the colder months has turned toxic under the statehouse dome.

Faced with the same kinds of challenges previous governors have dealt with as they've gone up against House Speaker Michael Madigan for the past 30 years, this governor's employees have been given free reign to go on full blown snark attack.

Take Thursday for example. Rauner spokesman Lance Trover spent his day tweeting out things like: “Speaker Madigan to Gov: please, please just raise taxes so we can all go home!!"

Later, the Vienna native monitored a press conference by Madigan and tweeted, “The Speaker is the best spokesman for everything that is wrong in this state.”

Trover, who earns $132,000 annually, was so busy blurring the line between political work and government work that he apparently forgot to collect the information I had asked him for three days before.

Tweeting before transparency is apparently the office credo these days.

But beyond the inflated rhetoric, there are examples where Democrats actually do talk with Republicans. And vice versa.

In early May, the House and Senate played their annual softball game at Lincoln Park on Springfield's north end. Members from each chamber team up, regardless of party affiliation, in order to take home the trophy.

The Conference of Women Legislators holds an annual night of comedy in which female lawmakers from both sides of the aisle combine their talents to raise money for scholarships.

And then there is Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who has his own way of reaching across the partisan divide.

A few days before the session ended, Cullerton went out to dinner with state Sen. Neal Anderson, R-Rock Island.

You might recall that Anderson was the only Republican to knock off a Democratic incumbent in the 2014 election.

"We spent a million and a half dollars trying to defeat Neal Anderson and he won. So the campaign is over and now we're down here not campaigning, but governing. We're practicing what we're preaching," Cullerton told me in an interview in his office.

On May 20, Cullerton went to dinner with state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

"They can talk about their kids softball game. It's candid. It's off the record. Everybody enjoys it," Cullerton said. "It's even fun to bring different people together."

By contrast, he pointed at Rauner, who spent the final days of the spring session blasting Democrats.

Said Cullerton, "We're trying to pass a budget. It's the most important thing we do. And instead we're getting these campaign-style attacks."

Who gets paid?

The state's new fiscal year begins July 1. But, if Rauner and Democrats can't agree on a budget, there won't be any way to pay the state's bills, right?

And, without money to pay bills, the state will just shut down, right?

Not really.

A variety of court precedents say the state doesn't have any choice but to pay some of its bills when there is an impasse.

One of those rulings came in 2013, when Democrats took Gov. Pat Quinn to court after he vetoed the appropriation set aside to pay lawmakers.

At the time, Quinn was trying to force lawmakers to the table to negotiate a pension reform package — a situation similar to Rauner's attempt to negotiate a series of pro-business regulatory reforms.

The Illinois Constitution says legislators’ salaries cannot be changed during their current terms in office.

“I do understand where his heart is,” the Cook County judge said of Quinn at the time. “But that’s politics. That’s not the law.”

Getting around

One of the hallmarks of Rauner's fledgling political career has been limiting transportation options.

In the budget he unveiled in February, the governor proposed cutting state funding for Amtrak.

His spending proposal also calls for cuts to downstate public transit, potentially leaving seniors unable to find a way to the grocery store.

The latest cut came last week when Rauner said he would shut down the state airplane service used by elected officials and agency directors to travel between Springfield and Chicago.

We're not sure what might be next, but I'm double locking my bike at the Capitol these days just in case.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


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