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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Rauner Wants Budget In 60-90 Days, Sees Chicago Fiscal Mess As Leverage Point

Hannah Meisel
Illinois Public Radio

Financial trouble in Illinois's biggest city has many worried about Chicago's potential ripple effects on the state with money problems of its own. Gov. Bruce Rauner sees an opportunity in Chicago's fiscal mess.

For all the trouble Illinois is in, Chicago is in deeper. The city's bonds are considered "junk" by the country’s leading ratings agencies.

The school system has closed over 50 facilities and laid off hundreds over the past few years, and the mayor last month proposed a $600 million property tax hike just to pay for its police and fire pensions.

But to get that increase passed, Rahm Emanuel needs several things from Springfield. That's where Rauner sees a pressure point he can leverage to get a state budget passed — one that's now four months overdue.

"I'm cautiously optimistic because of Chicago's financial challenges — they need some help in December — that maybe in December or January maybe there'll be enough incentive to compromise and we'll get something done but I don't know. Could be longer," Rauner said Friday.

At an appearance in Quincy Thursday, the governor had referred to Chicago's financial situation as "apocalyptic," and said Chicago gets too many special deals from the state.

Illinois has operated without a budget since July 1, but has still been spending at 90 percent of last year's levels, despite a $5 billion dropoff in revenues this year, due to the expiration of the 2011 income tax hike. Rauner's office has found millions of dollars in savings by eliminating thousands of people from childcare and elderly services. But the Republican says he doesn't take pleasure in changing eligibility rules to save money.

"There are many things that we should be funding that we can't because we don't have a budget, we don't have the money," he said. "My primary focus: push hard, let's get a budget as soon as possible. I'd like to get it today. The sooner the better. People are hurting, we're not funding what we should because we don't have a budget."

Rauner blames the Democratically controlled legislature for refusing to agree to some of Rauner's ideas, while the Democrats say Rauner's starting point is too extreme to accept.

Earlier this week, the state's comptroller said Illinois will have to skip its $560-million-dollar pension payment for the month of November in order to free up the cash for other non-negotiable spending.

Rauner says he predicts a budget will be passed within 60 to 90 days...which would be after the deadline for any potential challengers to enter legislative races against lawmakers who vote for politically sensitive budget compromises.

The governor has pledged to use his own large campaign war chest to aid Republican lawmakers who support his pro-business, union-weakening ideas.

Meisel works for Capitol News Illinois.
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