Rauner says House needs to return

Dems: Governor is distracting from his own recent political campaign spending

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday ripped the House, particularly its Democrats, for not being in the Capitol to work on solutions to the state’s budget crisis but instead taking a month off.

Despite House Republicans’ efforts on Thursday to keep the House in session, the majority Democrats chose to adjourn until April 4, the governor said. “That’s a dereliction of duty and a failure to do their jobs.”

Rauner, however, said he wouldn’t use the powers of his office to bring the House back to Springfield.

“It never works,” he said.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the legislative schedule had been published for quite some time and criticized Rauner for not addressing a question about campaign financing asked during the governor’s news conference Tuesday.

“Apparently he didn’t have the courage to talk about what motivates him to do all that (political spending) and then he woke up and the schedule that was published four months ago suddenly becomes fodder for one of his attacks,” Brown said.

Rauner also took a couple of swipes at Senate Democrats, particularly Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

The governor said he and Cullerton agreed in principle to a pension-reform proposal that would save the state an estimated $1 billion annually, yet Cullerton has not brought the legislation to the Senate for a vote.

“President Cullerton won’t call that bill — his bill, not my bill,” Rauner said. “Why hasn’t he done that?”

Rauner said the money saved on pensions could go to tuition assistance grants, community colleges and universities throughout the state and, perhaps, some social services.

Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said Cullerton met with Rauner concerning the pension bill the day before the governor’s Feb. 17 budget speech. He said Cullerton still is working on the legislation, adding that he is “trying to pass a law, not just create a roll call.”

Patterson also said the anticipated $1 billion savings would not be available for immediate spending.

“Under the plan the governor and Senate president have been discussing, there are no savings in the first year,” Patterson said in an email. “In addition, it would be unwise for the state to spend savings before the courts weigh in” on the constitutionality of the plan.

The state’s last significant pension-reform bill didn’t pass muster with the Illinois Supreme Court, which said it violated the 1970 state Constitution.

Rauner also called for the General Assembly to send him his fiscal 2017 education budget for pre-kindergarten through high school as a “clean bill — no games.”

Patterson said Cullerton met with education officials Tuesday and is awaiting — and should have within a couple of weeks — a district-by-district breakdown regarding the impact that budget would have on schools.

Rauner maintained both houses of the legislature should be in Springfield working on “real bills that could be called for a vote.”

The governor continued to criticize recent Democratic-backed legislation, such as a $3.7 billion spending package for higher education and some social services that the House passed last week.

Democrats keep pushing such legislation, Rauner argued, knowing the state can’t pay for it and knowing he will veto it.

“They’re not calling votes on the real bills,” said Rauner. “They’re calling votes on sham bills that can be spun for election politics.”

More than two-thirds of fiscal 2016 have passed with the state lacking an overall budget. During that time, higher education and many social services have gone largely without.

And, as of Monday, Illinois’ unpaid bills stood at $7.3 billion, according to the state comptroller’s office.

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