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Gov. Rauner Delivers Third Budget Speech

Rich Saal
The State Journal-Register/Pool

Governor Bruce Rauner is finally weighing in on a bipartisan deal meant to end Illinois’ budget stalemate. Rauner shot down a key component of the compromise during his budget speech.

Rauner was kept out of the Senate negotiations from the start. He has since praised them in general but refused to get into specifics until now. In his budget speech to the General Assembly Rauner said he does support expanding the sales tax to cover more services but he opposes taxing groceries and drugs.

"We can find a way to balance the budget without hurting low income families and fixed income seniors," said Rauner

Rauner also suggested in increase in the income tax could be stepped down over time. The Senate has considered a permanent hike to the income tax.

Rank and file Senate Republicans have repeatedly indicated they are not yet satisfied with the deal. That has caused frustration among Democrats who want votes to happen.

State Senator Dave Koehler said the Senate will continue trying to lead as Rauner has not in the last two years. The Peoria area Democrat says it's not clear how Rauner's efforts to join the negotiations through his budget speech will affect the talks.

"It probably affects more the Republican members. But, in spite of the lip service the Governor has given the grand bargain, there is also evidence some of the groups controlled by the Governor have worked behind the scenes to try to scuttle certain parts of it," said Koehler.

The Governor said Illinois cannot get a handle on spending until lawmakers take on "automatic spending categories'' such as pensions and Medicaid. The Republican's third budget address included a call for a "hard cap" on spending to force frugality.

And Rauner wants permanent caps on local taxes.

"The current Senate proposal calls for a permanent increase in the income tax, but offers only a temporary property tax freeze in exchange. That's just not fair," said Rauner.

Democrats criticized Rauner for deflecting blame for Illinois' financial crisis and putting his political agenda ahead of resolving the state budget impasse. State Senator Dave Koehler of the Peoria area said Rauner's prop tax proposal doesn't fix the state at all.

"If we're going to tell all of our taxing bodies that there is going to be a freeze and we don't offer any solutions as to what makes up that difference, then we have just kicked them in the teeth," said Koehler.

Democratic state Sen. Tom Cullerton said Illinois needs solutions, "not political buzz words."  But Republicans were complimentary. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said Rauner demonstrated his willingness to work with both parties.  

Oh and one more thing,  Rauner asked for in his budget messagem, term limits.

"Term limits get job creators excited. (crowd makes dissenting noise). You should ask them. I have. Term limits is one of the most important things we can do to send a positive recruiting message," said Rauner.

Democrats scoffed, including Senator Koehler.

"That was a laughable moment. Really Governor? that's the problem with Illinois? We have social service agencies dying on the vine. We have students that don't know whether they can go to college next year. And this is what you say is the problem?," said Koehler.

Koehler said term limits will not be part of the grand bargain.

Democrats in the Illinois Legislature also erupted in laughter at Rauner's statements he proposed a balanced budget in 2015 and that the impasse isn't about "assigning blame."  

Koehler said if nothing happens in the final two years of Rauner's term, the state will be $25 billion in debt and he doesn't know how Illinois survives that.

The state is on track to build up a $5 billion deficit by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. It has $11 billion in overdue bills and pension-program shortfalls totally $130 billion.  


WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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