Will Democrats embrace either Rauner budget proposal?

  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner gave his annual budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in Springfield.

    Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner gave his annual budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in Springfield. Associated Press

  • Various groups protest against budget cuts and rally in support of passing a state budget outside the House chamber as Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his annual budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in Springfield.

    Various groups protest against budget cuts and rally in support of passing a state budget outside the House chamber as Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his annual budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in Springfield. Associated Press

 
and Mary Hansen
mriopell@dailyherald.com
 
Updated 2/17/2016 8:04 PM

mhansen@dailyherald.com

Gov. Bruce Rauner laid out two budget paths Wednesday -- one combining pro-business moves with additional tax money, and the other embracing spending cuts -- but Democrats he's warred with for a year seem uneasy about accepting either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rauner gave his budget address for next year even though a 2016 state budget is eight months overdue. While that historically long Illinois budget stalemate continues, the governor's latest spending plan adds some options.

The governor said lawmakers should compromise with him on pro-business priorities -- such as a property tax freeze and reducing workman's compensation costs -- and come to a $36 billion spending agreement that could include as much as $3.5 billion in tax increases to address the state's deficit.

"To create jobs and raise incomes, we've got to change our state's reputation as being hostile to business," Rauner said.

The other option, Rauner said, is for lawmakers to give him increased unilateral powers to cut state spending. With cuts, Rauner's budget would be $32.8 billion.

"You choose," he said. "But please, choose now."

To many Democrats, both choices are distasteful. Some of Rauner's so-called Turnaround Agenda has been decried as anti-union and unacceptable to a House and Senate with large Democratic majorities.

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Giving Rauner more budget power seems equally unpopular among Democrats. State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, said the idea "gives me a lot of pause."

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat and Rauner's chief budget foil, highlighted their differences when asked about Rauner's argument that previous governors have been given additional budget-cutting powers and pressed for what was different this time.

"The person occupying the governor's office," he said.

Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, agrees it's unlikely Democrats will give Rauner more executive power to solve the budget crisis. But he says the governor's address showed there is room for compromise.

"We don't need everything on the list," he said. "He did not mention redistricting, he did not mention term limits. It can be argued that those things may not have a direct impact on the budget."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Protesters filled the Capitol during Rauner's speech, and their chants could be heard from inside the ornate House chamber where the governor spoke.

Stefano Medansky, a Zion resident, was among them. He said that government-funded services helped him when he was left homeless at 18.

"Without those programs, a lot of people will be homeless and a lot of people will be a lot worse off," he said.

The state has operated without a full budget plan in place since July 1, but a series of court orders and stopgap spending plans have kept most programs moving.

Rauner last year signed Democrats' school spending plan and offered education as an olive branch again, calling for more money for schools and urging lawmakers to send him "clean" legislation to pay for them.

Other details of the newest Rauner budget plan, should lawmakers agree to his agenda, include:

• Local governments wouldn't see their share of local income taxes cut. Last year, Rauner proposed cutting those payments in half, but the idea was blocked.

• School districts who give end-of-career pay raises of more than the rate of wage inflation would have to pick up the pension costs that result.

• College and university spending would be cut, but a pool of additional money would be created that would be paid out if schools meet certain performance goals.

• The state would continue trying to divest in the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.

Since July 1, colleges, universities and the students who get certain need-based scholarships haven't been paid. The issue also shows that Rauner and lawmakers have to cope with the realities of last year's undone budget while discussing the next one.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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