Senate refuses Rauner on lawsuits, property taxes

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Senate Democrats on Thursday shot down two more of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda items.

The governor’s effort to make changes in the state’s civil legal system fell Thursday morning to an 8-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And Rauner’s attempt at a statewide property-tax freeze failed Thursday afternoon on an 11-6 vote in the Senate Executive Committee.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats voted down the Republican governor’s workers compensation reform, also while still in committee.

Democrats in the legislature have not assigned two more of the governor’s efforts — legislative redistricting and elected official term limits — to committees, indicating those measures are unlikely to be taken up before the Sunday deadline for the spring session.

The governor’s property tax freeze measure would have frozen property tax extensions at 2015 levels, although local local voters could grant additional taxing authority by referendum.

Because local governments, including school districts, are dependent on income from property taxes, the Rauner administration tried to sweeten the bills with measures that would have freed them from the prevailing wage act and allowed them to exclude many items from collective bargaining.

While Democrats agreed Illinois property taxes are too high, they rallied against the measure, largely citing the cost-saving measures as anti-labor.

“So you think the key to turning around Illinois is to pay teachers less?” Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) asked Rauner administration officials.

Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, who was sponsoring the measure as amendments to Senate Bill 1046, said she was disappointed.

“The people of Illinois deserve real property tax relief, and the ability of local voters to control their own local taxes,” she said. “Sadly, until we find a way to address this problem, families and businesses will continue to leave Illinois.”

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) disagreed.

“Any effort to restrict property taxes without first finding ways to shift the education funding burden is an attack on schools and a cap on opportunity for kids across the state,” he said.

The governor’s lawsuit reform efforts, part of Senate Bill 884, sought several changes to civil law, including tightening the rules where lawsuits could be brought in order to curb venue shopping, or the filing of suits where the plaintiffs think them most likely to win a large payout.

It also sought to increase the threshold for joint liability, alter rules for jury instructions and limit medical expenses to paid bills and expected expenses.

Democrats objected, saying the bills would only benefit insurers and corporations and essentially block taxpayers’ access to the very court system they fund.

“Efforts to address the business climate shouldn’t be mere attempts to give middle-class families the runaround,” said Cullerton.

The governor’s office says Democratic legislators are blocking his efforts to make Illinois more job-competitive and its government accountable.

“While Gov. Rauner says yes to reform and yes to compromise, the legislators in control of the General Assembly say no to reform, no to compromise, yes to unbalanced budgets and yes to higher taxes without reform,” said Rich Goldberg, the governor’s chief of staff.

“Meanwhile, two constitutional amendments proposed by the governor are being denied a vote despite a direct request from Leader Radogno: one to impose term limits on legislators and the executive; another to establish a fair map to end political gerrymandering.”

With a deadline of midnight Sunday, the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly remain nowhere near on budget matters or the governor’s demands for structural change in state government.

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