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Bernard Schoenburg

STATEHOUSE SPOTLIGHT: Governor heaps scorn on speaker of the House

Madigan denies Rauner's conflict of interest charges

Madigan denies Rauner's conflict of interest charges

Gov. Bruce Rauner is continuing his habit of heaping scorn on another Statehouse political player about the time he's working for a deal.

On Monday – the same day he issued the call for a special session on school funding this week – Rauner told the editorial board of The Daily Herald that House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, promotes high property taxes out of a "stunning conflict of interest" because Madigan's law practice helps property owners appeal for lower tax assessments.

The way Rauner put it: "Madigan for his own reasons is a fan of high property taxes."

"This is yet another untrue statement by the governor," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the paper. Brown said Madigan doesn't mix legislative and legal work, and had voted several times for property tax freezes.

I asked Rauner at a news conference Wednesday if he could be seen as having a conflict of interest for vetoing a tax increase. It was over his objection that the state income tax for individuals rose 1.2 percentage points, from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, as of July 1.

While Rauner doesn't take his state salary and has said his holdings are in a blind trust, 2015 was his best personal-income year as governor, when he reported making more than $180 million. At that level, the extra tax could cost him more than $2 million a year.

Clearly, given that Rauner has already dumped $50 million into his 2018 race, the state's tax structure won't determine if he can afford to go out to lunch. But lots of legislators have jobs, and attacking professions that might be touched by legislation could be a full-time job.

Rauner didn't directly answer the tax question – instead redirecting it to Madigan.

"When a person who sets tax policy and has controlled it for 35 years also controls a property tax appeal law firm that fundamentally makes money from the property tax policy in a way that ... specifically disadvantages the families of Illinois, that is wrong; our system is broken; it's fundamentally unfair."

Property taxes, by the way, are collected by local governments, not the state.

Asked about it at his own news conference later, Madigan reiterated what he has said in the past: His law firm's clients are a matter of public record, and an extensive newspaper investigation into his law practice found no client that got special or inappropriate treatment.

"My firm and myself operate under conflict rules," Madigan said. "Any potential client seeking a state benefit is rejected. If a client requests my intercession with a state agency, I refuse. If a client expresses an interest in legislation, I recuse myself from consideration of the bill."

Rauner's tactic is not new. In the summer of 2015 – at the beginning of what would become a 2-year budget impasse only ended with the votes of more than a dozen Republicans over the Republican governor's objection – Rauner slammed Madigan when talking with reporters on the lawn of the Executive Mansion.

"The lobbyists, the cronies, the patronage workers, the bureaucrats, the government insiders, they're doing well under Speaker Madigan, and Speaker Madigan is leading the pack," the governor said then. "He makes millions of dollars from the status quo in Illinois."

Rauner also launched about $1 million in TV ads in June 2015, targeting Madigan and "the politicians he controls."

The tone hasn't changed much.

STATEHOUSE SPOTLIGHT: Governor heaps scorn on speaker of the House OPINION: Bernard Schoenburg: Rauner remains on the personal attack7ea52e10-c70f-4a16-930e-2ca97bd0a7c6/image-pv_web.jpgshaw-push-component-1