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Doug Finke

Rauner says, Let’s cooperate; Madigan says gov blames others

Heading into his bid for a second term, Gov. Bruce Rauner last week called for bipartisan cooperation with legislators to tackle the state’s problems, including a focus on improving the state’s financial standing through economic growth.

In a 30-minute State of the State speech delivered Wednesday to a joint session of the General Assembly, Rauner mixed old and new themes in setting out his agenda for the year. The new included addressing the ongoing issue of sexual harassment in state government and Legionnaire’s disease at the Quincy veterans home, while the old included renewed calls for property tax relief and term limits.

“The state of our state today is one of readiness,” Rauner said. “Readiness born of unprecedented frustration with our political culture, along with the firm belief that we have tremendous, but as-yet unrealized economic potential.”

Rauner was not specific about what he wants lawmakers to do to achieve economic growth outside of working cooperatively with each other. He said that where once lawmakers worked together to solve the state’s problems “we now divide to conquer the other side, or worse, we legislate for expediency rather than effect.”

Still, he pointed to school funding reform and criminal justice reform where lawmakers from both parties and his office worked together to achieve results.

Rauner defended his administration’s response to the repeated outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease at the veterans home in Quincy. The administration has taken criticism for not being open about the outbreaks and not taking sufficient steps to avoid recurrences. Rauner said the administration is exploring replacement of entire systems at the home to try to eradicate the bacteria and “perhaps even a new facility.”

Once again, Rauner called on lawmakers to let voters decide whether Illinois should place term limits on elected officials.

Rauner cited other states that have done things to address public employee pension costs, lower health insurance costs to cover public employees, and cut rates for workers compensation. He did not, though, lay out specific proposals for dealing with those issues in Illinois.

Property tax relief – a holdover from previous Rauner speeches – got another mention. Rauner said lawmakers should pass a bill that allows voters to cut their property taxes via referendum.

He also said lawmakers should pass a bill to
prevent legislators from handling cases before property tax appeals boards. Rauner already issued an executive order prohibiting lawmakers from doing that before the state tax appeals board. It is directed largely at House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, whose law firm handles property tax appeals cases in Chicago.

Madigan fired back in a statement saying Rauner again “chooses to blame others for the challenges facing our state on his watch instead of being the leader he was elected to be.”

“For the good of our state, maybe it’s better the governor continue sitting on the sidelines and pretend he is not in charge,” Madigan said.

It was a reference to Rauner’s statement that Madigan runs the state, not the governor.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon, however, came when Rauner teased the budget speech he will give Feb. 14.

“The surest road to economic vitality and job growth is a collaborative effort to regain our financial integrity,” Rauner said. “To that end, I will submit a balanced budget proposal next month. It will offer a path to reduced spending and it will show the way to surpluses going forward so we can reduce taxes and start the push back against the assault on middle class bank accounts.”

Democrats in the chamber gave that a standing ovation, mainly because they’ve said Rauner has yet to present a balanced budget proposal during his first three years in office.

After the speech, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs also called for bipartisan cooperation to get property tax relief, a balanced budget and pension reform.

“Together, we can find bipartisan compromises and solutions to put Illinois on the right fiscal path and create economic opportunities in all corners of the state,” he said in a statement.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he’s skeptical about Rauner’s call for bipartisan cooperation.

“We’ve had 3 years of political attacks and then he suggests maybe we should start working together,” Cullerton said. “I hope that he’s being sincere, but I have to really question that.”

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