CHICAGO (AP) -- The latest Illinois budget discussions between Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders touched on the state's pension crisis and school funding reform but was missing one key player: House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan didn't attend the latest meeting Thursday aimed at ending a budget stalemate now in its sixth month because he had a scheduling conflict, according to his spokesman, Steve Brown. He declined to elaborate, but insisted that Madigan was committed to finding a solution to the budget gridlock.
"He makes every effort to attend these meetings," Brown said.
It was the third budget meeting in as many weeks as lawmakers and the Republican governor try to find agreement on a spending plan. The state has been operating without one since July 1 and both parties remain deadlocked on how to proceed. Democrats who control the Legislature want a tax increase combined with spending cuts to plug a multibillion budget shortfall.
Rauner wants changes in laws to make business operations cheaper and to curb union power. He also wants term limits and changes to how legislative districts are drawn every decade.
Republican leaders Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin described Thursday's meeting as productive but took turns noting Madigan's absence.
"I thought it was a good conversation. But the fact is we're not going to move this along unless we all are fully participating and actively involved in these negotiations," Durkin said. He said he didn't get an explanation of what Madigan's scheduling conflict was.
"We covered quite a bit in there, despite having the speaker not be at the meeting," Radogno said.
Durkin and Radogno said their meeting with Rauner and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton focused on five areas: addressing the state's $111 billion pension liability; school funding; term limits; redistricting; and changes to workers' compensation insurance.
Rauner and Cullerton didn't comment after the meeting in Chicago.
Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the senator was "encouraged by the fact there was a robust discussion on school funding reform."
Brown defended Madigan's absence, saying the speaker has been "fully involved" in budget discussions. He said the governor was notified in advance that Madigan would not be able to attend the meeting, but Brown couldn't say when the notification occurred.
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