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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Rauner: ‘Expect A Very Long Extra Session’ For Budget


Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has stayed out of the public eye for the past couple of days. But he's making his feelings on the budget known in an article published late Wednesday night.

The Illinois legislative session is scheduled to end  May 31, but Rauner is signaling he's prepared to keep it going much longer. Rauner -- the first Republican governor Illinois has had in a dozen years -- wrote a first-person opinion piece for The State Journal-Register in Springfield.

In it, he said, "If legislators are willing to reform how we do business, they will find me an eager partner. If they are not, they should expect a very long extra session."

Rauner's piece includes political keywords and phrases, like shrinking waste, change and reform; he calls out government insiders and special interests.

The column was posted on the newspaper's website just after 10 p.m., so reaction from Democrats -- who control the Illinois House and Senate -- wasn't immediately available.

But Democrats like Rep. Lou Lang have noted there's not enough support for Rauner's pro-business, anti-union agenda, saying earlier this week that Rauner's "list of 10 or 15 things are just not going to happen."

Lang compared Rauner's treatment of the General Assembly to that of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who had a notoriously toxic relationship with legislators.

The House has voted down measures, such as a proposal to create right-to-work, that mirror Rauner's plans, and is expected to do more of that today when it debates workers' compensation reform and putting restrictions on lawsuits. Republicans say those votes are shams, designed by Democrats to embarrass Rauner.

"They need to get to the table and have a serious discussion about reforms," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said, "and then we can have a serious discussion about revenue and the state budget."

The so-called "phony bills" are designed to put GOP legislators in a "trick box," Rep. Ron Sandack, a top House Republican from Downers Grove, said.

Sandack noted that Democrats already sent out brochures slamming some Republicans for voting against a property-tax freeze proposal. But Democrats point out that, while Rauner has spent months touring the state in campaign mode to promote what he calls his Turnaround Agenda, he's never actually introduced plans for lawmakers' consideration.

That sort of finger-pointing ramped up Tuesday when the General Assembly's Republican leaders called a press conference to scold Democrats for what they describe as stonewalling negotiations; it's a characterization that Democrats, who claim to be cooperative, deny.

Democrats say it's past time for Rauner to turn his focus to the budget. In lieu of a compromise, Democrats appeared Wednesday to have been moving forward behind the scenes with their own spending plan.

Senate President John Cullerton said that the actual form the budget will take is still being negotiated.

"We don't have a balanced budget from the governor and he's saying he has some other agenda that doesn't relate to the budget," Cullerton said. "In the meantime, somebody's got to go forward with the budget, so that's what we're trying to do."

The budget proposal Rauner introduced in February was full of huge cuts: 30-percent reductions to state universities, millions of dollars from Amtrak, and de-funding some human services programs.

Insiders, including legislators, say the Democratic version is shaping up to contain cuts too, but drastically smaller ones.

Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who chairs the House Higher Education Appropriations committee, says universities will see cuts of less than 10 percent.

"This is where our talent gets trained and educated," Dunkin said, "and for us to dismiss them in a such a way -- or to write them off -- is not the right message that we need to send."

What appears to be missing from the equation, at least so far, is a way to pay for that spending, given that it will be the first full budget year under the restored lower tax rates. Democrats could be content to send Gov. Rauner a budget that dares him to make the drastic cuts he'd outlined.

While there's been no action on revenue enhancers like a higher income tax rate, a tax on currently untaxed retirement income, or adding a sales tax to services as Rauner had promoted during his campaign, there are revenue options.

Gambling is one possibility. A legislator involved with those negotiations says a proposal to put new casinos in Rockford, Danville, Chicago, Lake County and the south suburbs is shaping up.

House Speaker Michael Madigan also is keeping alive a "millionaires’ tax;" A proposed constitutional amendment that could lead to a surcharge on personal income over a million dollars advanced out of a House committee. It's opposed by Rauner and his business allies.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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