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Three House Republicans Side With Emanuel To Override Rauner Pension Veto

Three Illinois Republicans broke rank from their governor Monday to give Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel a big victory in Springfield.

Those Republicans helped override a veto from Gov. Bruce Rauner over how Chicago will pay for its underfunded police and fire pensions. Rep. David Harris (R-Mount Prospect) is one of those Republicans who bucked his party’s governor.

“The city is down right now. It’s taking its lumps. I don’t like to kick someone when they’re down,” Harris said during the debate on the House floor.

After the vote, in which Emanuel secured victory with one vote to spare, Harris said he’s disagreed with Democrats over Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda and budget negotiations - but he didn’t see the bill about Chicago’s police and firefighter pensions affecting those talks.

“It’s not easy voting against your governor. I’m uncomfortable voting against the governor. But I very respectfully disagree with him on this issue,” Harris said of Rauner.

Chicago taxpayers will save $1 billion on police and fire pension costs in the short term under a law the General Assembly approved Monday after some House Republicans bucked their governor, who had railed against it as a ridiculous expansion of the Illinois' growing pension hole, according to the Associated Press. The House voted 72-43 to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the savings plan, which trumps state law that required the city to pump $4.62 billion into retirement accounts for police officers and firefighters through 2020. 

After the vote to override Rauner, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) did something that’s a rare sight in Springfield these days: She went across the aisle to shake the hands of the three Republicans.

“I said, ‘Thanks,’” she said after the vote with a laugh.

The bill extends the time Chicago has to put money into its police and fire pension funds. Emanuel has said Rauner’s veto would’ve forced a property tax hike, which was a point repeated throughout the day by supporters of the bill. 

“If we do not override this bill, there will be an additional $287 million property tax increase on top of the $543 million,” Senate President John Cullerton said.

Rauner’s veto of the bill late on Friday caused Emanuel to launch a campaign to blame Rauner for any consequences. In a written statement, Emanuel said, “His veto is harmful to taxpayers, and like everything he does, it is contradictory to his own supposed policy positions. It’s no wonder no one can trust him.

Even after override, Rauner did not back down any less from his opposition to the measure, repeating his criticisms that the bill kicks the can down the road for the city to meet its pension obligations, which cost taxpayers more in the long-run.

“Clearly, those who supported this measure haven’t recognized what happens when governments fail to promptly fund pension obligations.”

The city's police and fire funds are $12 billion short of what's needed to cover current and future obligations. Chronic underfunding over the decades is largely to blame, as it is responsible for the $111 billion shortfall Illinois faces in its state-employee accounts, according to the Associated Press.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was in a meeting with Rauner and other legislative leaders shortly after the vote to override, told reporters Rauner did not bring up the vote in the meeting.

“I was raised not to cause embarrassment for people so I didn’t raise it,” Madigan said.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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