Governor’s agenda goes local; Rauner’s plan wins one, loses one

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — The latest battleground for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s agenda is turning out to be city council chambers.

The Rauner administration, by way of organizations including the Illinois Municipal League, is providing city councils and other bodies with a draft resolution in support of its “Turnaround Illinois” plan.

That resolution voices support for many of the governor’s favorite themes, including those that have put him squarely at odds with unions: right-to-work zones, repeal of prevailing wage law and the elimination of project labor agreements for construction projects.

On Monday, the governor scored a win in East Dundee, where the village board adopted the resolution in its entirety by a 6-0 vote without contention, public comment, media coverage or backlash.

Village Administrator Robert Skurla noted the resolution only expresses support for the governor’s agenda and has no force in law.

Still, Skurla said, had East Dundee trustees the option to opt out of prevailing wage requirements, for example, they’d probably put that on their agenda for a vote as fast as they legally could.

The village has or is spending millions on public development works, including upgraded police and fire stations, and it could have saved about 20 percent if not for prevailing wage requirements, Skurla said.

“It’s been a very frustrating experience in trying to balance a budget and yet having to pay prevailing wage rates, especially to contractors who are probably not union shops to begin with,” Skurla said.

“We definitely know our tax dollars could go further on projects we’ve been building here,” he said.

On Tuesday, the story was markedly different in Oswego, where the resolution’s presence on the agenda for discussion, but not a vote, drew a packed house.

The audience, composed largely of union men and women, was firmly in opposition.

“Right to work is not an economic development; it’s an economic regression,” said Scott Roscoe, president of the Fox Valley Building Trades Council. “The middle class doesn’t need another obstacle.”

“I ask you to carefully review this resolution and reject it and the attacks on workers in your community,” he told village trustees.

Roscoe and the speakers who followed him and supported his remarks — including U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville — were met with applause.

Trustee Pam Parr asked why the resolution was before the council “since we should not and cannot legally deal with it on a local level.”

Village President Brian LeClercq said he wanted the draft resolution in front of all trustees and publicly discussed as a matter of openness.

And he said, since the items in the resolution could affect the community of about 30,000, he wanted to reply to the state’s request for information with accurate input from the community.

Parr, to applause, responded, “I was just asking because I’ve been telling the state my opinion for 12 years and they haven’t changed anything.”

Asked about the Oswego meeting, Rauner’s staff issued a statement:

“Employee empowerment zones are designed to let local communities decide if they want union representation or not. If Oswego decides to maintain union workforces, that will be their decision, and not a decision Springfield made for them. … empowerment zones will allow communities to better compete with surrounding states when attracting new businesses, which will help strengthen the middle class by providing more opportunities for jobs,” the statement said.

Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League said the organization distributed the draft resolution because many of the subjects it contains are core issues for its members.

But Cole, a former Carbondale mayor, said the league knows it serves cities and villages of every possible political makeup and just wants to see the issues in the resolution discussed.

“We haven’t taken any action for or against, we just want the discussion to take place,” he said.

Cole said municipalities are free to do as they see fit with the proposed resolution and they have the option of adopting all of it, parts of it or none of it.

In Springfield, the first-term Republican governor appears to face an uphill fight.

Traditionally labor-friendly Democrats hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Additionally, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a fourth-term Democrat from Chicago, has issued two opinions saying right-to-work zones and the prevailing wage laws are — without enabling legislation from the General Assembly — off limits to local government.

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