GateHouse Media-area senators vary on whether the full chamber should have held a rare joint meeting behind closed doors Wednesday, but they agree what was discussed was hardly earth-shattering.

GateHouse Media-area senators vary on whether the full chamber should have held a rare joint meeting behind closed doors Wednesday, but they agree what was discussed was hardly earth-shattering.


Some Republicans criticized Democratic leadership for setting up the meeting of the full Senate in a committee room with the National Conference of State Legislatures for a presentation on budget problems. The meeting was closed to reporters and the public.


"I don't for the life of me understand why it wasn't open to the press," said State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield. "There was nothing to be hidden. You would think it would be good PR to show the bipartisan effort meeting together."


Democrats responded that meeting like this might be rare but isn't sinister.


"It was a caucus," said State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville. "It was a joint-caucus but it was still a caucus meeting, and we have never let the press into a caucus meeting. Not only that, but after the caucus, the people who made the presentation were available at a press conference and the handouts that we were given, were given to the press."


Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said he wasn't even aware the meeting was closed but said that makes sense in retrospect because only senators were involved.


Democrats and Republicans routinely call for party caucuses on their own, but rarely meet together. Senators said the meeting allowed lawmakers to be more candid about state and national budget problems and concerns.


"It was basically an opportunity to ask some specific questions without having somebody taking it the wrong way," said State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. "It could have been open. But if the media was there, we might get some legislators playing to the media and asking certain questions in a different way."


Bomke and Syverson left early, with Bomke headed to other meetings.


"There was no new creative idea that was presented, which is why I didn't feel compelled to stay the whole time," Syverson said.


State Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, didn't go because of a conflicting schedule but said it should have been open.


"It's an issue everyone is interested in and they don't have anything secret to provide," Risinger said. "I think there was a stir created about this that shouldn't have happened."


Sullivan said it just reinforced what lawmakers already knew.


"We knew going into the meeting that we were going to be presented with information that Illinois is in the same situation as many states," Sullivan said. "What we did get out of this was how long it is going to take to get us out of it, how deep we are and how we compare to other states."


Syverson said many of the group's recommendations – such as Medicaid reform, top-to-bottom review of state spending and improving the business climate – were already proposed by Republicans only to be shot down by Democrats.


"I think it was good for Democrats to hear some of that because they were hearing what (Republicans) were trying to tell them all along," Syverson said. "Hearing 'I can't believe you aren't doing that because other states are doing it,' maybe helped it sink in a little bit with them that we can't be the state doing these things."


Brian Feldt can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or brian.feldt@sj-r.com.