By Dave McKinney
CHICAGO – One of the key players in Illinois’ unending financial plight extended a peace offering to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday by opening a legislative avenue for the possible sale of the state’s main office building in downtown Chicago.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan announced a legislative committee would explore a Rauner request to sell the state’s aging James R. Thompson Center high-rise in Chicago’s famed Loop business district.
Madigan’s move follows a renewed call this week by the governor for the state to dump the aging office building in a move he said could yield as much as $200 million for Illinois’ depleted treasury.
Crippled by feuding between Madigan and Rauner, Illinois is limping through a record-setting second consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget. Rauner and the Democratic-led legislature have allowed the state to veer deeper into budgetary no-man’s land by permitting a six-month fiscal 2017 budget to expire on Dec. 31.
“While technical questions pertaining to the sale remain, it is my intention to work with the governor on developing a course of action for the Thompson Center that best serves the interests of the people of Illinois,” Madigan said in a statement.
The long-serving House speaker said his move was in keeping with “my commitment to work cooperatively with the governor.” No reaction was immediately available from Rauner’s office.
Opened in 1985, the 16-story Thompson Center houses about 2,000 government workers and was designed by award-winning architect Helmut Jahn.
Named after a former Illinois Republican governor who served for 14 years, the building has faced recurring heating and cooling problems and has been neglected by the state for much of its three-decade lifespan.
In October 2015, Rauner said $100 million was needed for deferred maintenance and repairs. By contrast, ridding the state of the complex would return a new development to Chicago’s property tax rolls, perhaps generating $20 million annually for the city and its public school system, the governor said last fall.
In his budget address on Wednesday, Rauner urged lawmakers to permit the building’s sale, saying it could help close an estimated $4.57 billion state budget deficit in fiscal 2018 and generate revenue elsewhere.
“Everyone benefits from the sale,” he said. “The city of Chicago stands to gain major new property tax revenue, along with the jobs that come with a massive development.”