Rauner promotes new top aide famous for war of words

As state lawmakers continue to work in secret to craft a compromise to end their budget war, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has promoted to chief of staff a top aide known for his tussles with Democrats last year.

"As you may know, 35 minus 28 equals 7," new Chief of Staff Richard Goldberg wrote to Democratic state Rep. John Bradley of Marion last year, in part criticizing a math error in a memo. "Given your support for a budget out of balance by $4 billion, finding errors in basic arithmetic is not a great surprise."

Goldberg - a Navy Reserve intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan and former aide of U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk - steps into the role while Rauner's first chief of staff, Mike Zolnierowicz, leaves to work on Republicans' campaign efforts.

The ongoing Illinois budget war's proximity to the November election continues to play a significant role in lawmakers' disputes. Any way out of the budget standoff could be politically difficult if a tax increase, Rauner's proposals and major service cuts are part of the deal.

Plus, the war of words continues to heat up among Rauner, Democratic lawmakers and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Goldberg's promotion Friday was a reminder the fight has been going on for more than a year.

"No one will work harder to fix the state than Richard. He is extremely smart, loyal and relentless," Rauner said in a statement. "Richard has my full support and trust. I know he will do a great job in his role."

Goldberg was not available for comment.

Last year, state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, was one of several lawmakers to take issue with Goldberg, telling WBEZ, "Rich's job is to be the governor's unmentionable anatomy."

"And he embraces that role with the flair and enthusiasm that can only have been born of years of experience in fraternity houses and undergraduate bars," Harmon said.

Friday, Harmon said Goldberg's promotion could be a "pivotal moment in the Rauner administration" and called Goldberg "a smart and capable guy. He was given a very specific role to play."

"He certainly is the author of some memorable missives," Harmon said.

Friday afternoon, Rauner vetoed a previous budget plan approved by Democrats, ensuring the fight for how to pay for colleges, universities and social services for both this year and next year will remain a hotly contested debate this month.

Democrats in recent days had become more insistent Rauner sign the budget plan into law as social services agencies face a June 30 deadline that raises questions about whether they'll get any money from this year at all.

"We can provide instant relief today, however, to the countless human service providers who are taking care of our most vulnerable and not getting paid," state Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, said this week. "We cannot afford to wait another day."

In vetoing the plan, Rauner called it "a check written from an overdrawn bank account."

"The only way to ensure that social services are fully funded is to pass a balanced budget, where spending is in line with revenues," he wrote.

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