Rauner-led GOP, Democrats about to square off

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — At the moment, one four-digit number — 1229 — is the watchword for the struggle between first-year Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who hold supermajorities in the General Assembly.

That struggle is anticipated to come to a head Wednesday in the House, when Democrats are expected to attempt an override of Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 1229, the interest arbitration or “no-strike/no-lockout” bill.

The measure would allow mandatory arbitration should either the state or its unionized employees declare a bargaining impasse in their continuing contract talks.

Once the binding arbitration hearing begins, a strike or lockout would be prohibited. In the end, a panel of arbitrators would pick from either the state’s or the union’s final offers on economic-interest items such as pay and benefits.

Rauner, who vetoed the bill, has called it the worst he’s heard of in the history of Illinois.

He and many in the GOP say there’s only one reason the state’s biggest employee union would yield its right to strike: to knock Rauner out of the game in hopes of a better deal from an arbitrator. They say it removes from the bargaining table the one person, the governor, selected by the people to represent their interests.

Opponents say SB 1229 is an expensive gift to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents some 35,000 state employees, and will mean a tax increase to fund a $1.6 billion or more raise to the Midwest’s best-paid state employees.

“Every senator who voted to overturn our veto chose special interests over the taxpayers,” the governor said the night the Senate overrode the veto on a vote of 38-15.

The bill’s backers say that’s ridiculous. They contend the union is willing to forfeit strike authority in favor or binding arbitration only because Rauner wants nothing more than to unilaterally impose terms, force a strike and drive AFSCME from state government and politics.

“The governor’s hysteria over this bill is a plain indication that he is not willing to work toward a fair contract settlement, but rather is trying to provoke a confrontation,” AFSCME Council 31 president Roberta Lynch said in a update to members that was posted Tuesday on the Capitol Fax blog.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, lead sponsor in the House, says the bill is meant to drive the sides toward the middle, keep them at the bargaining table and produce a negotiated contract.

“It’s not anti-the-governor or pro-the-union,” Smiddy said. “It’s basically trying to ensure the people of Illinois continue to receive the services that this state provides.”

Political pressure — from AFSCME, the governor’s office and his supporters, and from within the parties — has reportedly been enormous.

Legislators of both parties have been called in to speak with the governor, robocalls and mailers are still flooding out and union members have turned out in force at parades and other public functions.

The battle may be over strategy and economics, but it’s also certainly over politics.

Neither Rauner nor the legislative Democrats have been able to declare any sort of win from the failure to reach a budget deal.  And with that fight having gone from slugfest to trudge-fest, the Rauner-led GOP and the Democrats now appeared squared up for fight that’s not going to be canceled.

And one reason the heat is so great is the margins are tight.

The House originally passed SB 1229 with 67 votes, which is four short of 71, which represents both the total number of Democrats in the House and the three-fifths supermajority vote needed for override.

The day the bill passed, two Democrats were out on excused absences due to illnesses, and only two others — Rep. Jack Franks and Rep. Andre Thapedi — did not vote.

If Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan — who Rauner has cast as his nemesis nearly all year long —  does have a solid base of 69 votes, he only need to pick up a total of two votes from his previously unaccounted-for two Democrats and the 22 Republicans who either did not vote or voted “present” when the bill was called.

And the areas represented by many of those Republicans include parts of Illinois with long-established ties to organized labor including the Quad-Cities, Peoria, Rockford and Decatur areas and, notably, Springfield and Jacksonville, which are home to large numbers of AFSCME represented employees and retirees.

Smiddy on Tuesday said he’s confident he has the votes for an override, but he also hedged his bet as he quoted Yogi Berra: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

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