Rauner sounds off on challenges ahead

Lawmakers return to Springfield next week to start the push toward the end of May, when they're scheduled to leave town with a state spending plan in hand.

Gov. Bruce Rauner told the Daily Herald editorial board in a visit this week that the often contentious work of crafting the budget should wait until after lawmakers approve what he calls the “structural” aspects of his agenda. That includes changing workers' compensation and lawsuit rules, giving local government the ability to set up right-to-work rules, freezing property taxes and setting term limits, among others.

Why is the first-term Republican pushing for all those things when a tough budget negotiation is ahead?

“If I don't talk about the conflict of interest and changing the structure, we can balance the budget. But it'll get blown out down the road,” Rauner said in a wide-ranging discussion this week. “When I'm gone, we'll elect another Blagojevich,” he said, referring to the imprisoned former governor. “We have a history of doing that. And the doors will be blown off again.”

On taxes

Rauner's budget proposal includes cuts that have been protested by mayors, advocates for the disabled and others. Could some kind of tax increase make it into the next state budget to ease the cuts?

“I'll talk about anything,” Rauner said. “But, the critical thing, first — and it can be first by a couple nanoseconds, but it's first — is the structural reform.”

“If that's where we go, it'll suck all the oxygen out of the room,” he said of new taxes, saying that would stall his plan.

“That'll never see the light of day. And you know what, I'm not going to let that happen,” he said.

On school cuts

The legislative fix for budget hole left by Democrats' last budget included a 2.25 percent budget cut for schools, an area where Rauner wants to spend more.

“You've got to take short-term pain to fix a problem that we did not create,” he said.

“If we get these structural reforms done by May 31, the pain will be dramatically reduced and very different,” he said. “The pain will be in the right places rather than the places it is right now.”

On working with lawmakers

Rauner said he's listening to Democrats who control the General Assembly and is open to suggestion in those talks.

“I'm looking for complete non-starters. Just things where I say there's no way in heck I could ever do that,” Rauner said. “I haven't heard one. Maybe there is one, I haven't heard one.”

“So I'm saying, look, we'll work together,” he said. “I'll try to deliver as much as your agenda as I reasonably can. I need you to help me deliver this agenda. This is ... a local control agenda. You can't really argue against the local control agenda.”

A response

Rauner made a splash when he said this week that the Illinois Supreme Court was part of a “corrupt system.”

Daily Herald Staff Writer Marni Pyke asked U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin about it at a Barrington event the next day.

“I think that was a mistake for the governor to say that,” said Durbin, a Democrat. “I know the men and women on the court and I think they are professional and do a good job for our state. I have not seen any prejudice in their decisions ... sometimes I'm happy with them, sometimes I'm disappointed and that's the way it's supposed to be.”

Early movement

Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi this week announced support of more than 40 suburban Democrats in his bid to win next year's primary in the 8th Congressional District.

Topping the list was state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat.

Kotowski's colleagues, state Sens. Mike Noland of Elgin and Tom Cullerton of Villa Park, have also said they're considering runs to try to replace U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates in Congress. Duckworth is running for U.S. Senate instead of seeking re-election.

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