Rauner Chastises Chicago As Corrupt While Asking For Budget Deal
Gov. Bruce Rauner continues to criticize Democrats at the Illinois statehouse even as he’s asking them to work with him on a short-term state budget.
His comments Wednesday come as lawmakers continue to meet in private, but still have not found common ground over a plan to fund state government operations, or even schools.
During the noon hour, Republican and Democratic lawmakers met in Chicago. Meanwhile, in Springfield, Rauner told reporters he wants to see his temporary budget plan passed. That plan would also fund schools.
But he criticized the very lawmakers who he needs to get his measures passed.
“The supermajority of Democrats are focused on two things: Bailing out the city of Chicago, which has been corrupt and mismanaged and financially bereft for years, and forcing a tax hike without reforms,” Rauner said.
“We have a corrupt government,” he said. “We have conflicts of interest in our government. That’s a fact.”
When reporters asked how he’s supposed to broker a deal while making comments like that, Rauner said, “Anybody who says, ‘Well we can’t work together because you were mean to me yesterday.’ Oh, come on.”
“What he’s doing now isn’t working. That’s unfortunate,” said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who is one of those Chicago Democrats Rauner criticized. “Opportunities are being squandered and I would urge everyone to rethink their agendas, find the common ground and move forward.”
Those squandered opportunities have been few and far between in the past year, as Illinois state government approaches the one-year anniversary of having no full state budget.
Last year, Rauner and Democratic lawmakers approved a budget to fund schools. This year, no such agreement has been reached.
Court orders forced the state to fund many operations in the past year, although they’ve also added to the state’s backlog of unpaid bills, which is now beyond $7 billion.
Rauner has said the best long-term plan for the state is to institute pro-business policies that would bring new job opportunities to the state, by limiting collective bargaining, changing the compensation system for injured workers and reducing property taxes.
Democratic leaders have said many of Rauner’s proposals would hurt - not help - working class families. That has led to a year-long impasse, which has affected state funding for universities, social service providers and now, potentially, early childhood and grade schools.
Cullerton said Rauner’s comments interrupted and distracted the negotiations that were happening in Chicago.
“They’re reading their iPhones and they see the governor’s blasting us while we’re supposed to be cooperating with him in a bipartisan way to do what he asked us to do,” Cullerton said.
Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, was in the Chicago meeting too.
“If I was really upset by what (Rauner) said, I would’ve never participated in the meeting today. I would’ve just walked away. But it’s important enough to stay,” Davis said. “Despite whatever was said, we trudged on.”
But Davis said there was still no budget deal and much of the discussion Wednesday was about not just an education budget, but also about restructuring the entire state formula used to determine how much each school district should receive in state money. He said a new school funding formula would also require additional revenue.
“The question is, are we willing to prioritize education enough to put what we think is enough money behind it not just to, say, hold harmless this year but also think about where we’re trying to go next year, which is to implement a complete funding formula change which does require some additional revenue,” Davis said.
“I really think it’s a matter of wrapping your mind around, ‘Are we prepared to take that vote?’ But I think the challenge becomes: Let’s say we take that vote. Then how is it going to be portrayed outside of just the legislature? How is it going to be characterized outside the General Assembly? And I think that just becomes a challenge. And then let’s not forget to mention we have an election coming up as well and how it may play in those discussions.”
Rauner and Republican leaders have said they’re open to a tax increase if Rauner’s own policy changes were also approved.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.