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Rauner offers new legislative package; Democrats say ‘no,’ it’s more of the same

By Mark Fitton | Aug 17, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday said he’s again proposing legislation for a two-year freeze on local property taxes combined with what he calls local cost controls. 

This time, the governor added what it appears he hoped would be sweeteners for the financially troubled Chicago Public Schools system, including two years worth of CPS pension payments made by the state at about $200 million each. 

Further, the bill would allow CPS to end the practice of picking up the employee pension contribution. 

The governor also proposes an additional $74 million for high-poverty school districts, as well the formation of a commission to study and suggest a new general state aid formula for Illinois schools. 

But the governor is again tying those ideas to another set of proposals that Democrats — who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature — have consistently turned a cold eye toward: 

-     Local-option opt outs from much of collective bargaining for public workers.

-     Local-option opt outs from the state’s Prevailing Wage Act.

-     Changes to the state’s worker’s compensation system, including a new “causation” standard, or standard by which an injury is deemed compensable because it is work-related. 

“I believe this is the single most important piece of legislation we can pass this session,” Rauner said in a news conference at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. “This is good bipartisan reform.”

“This will be a transformational change and improvement for the state of Illinois and allow us to move forward and complete the rest of the budgeting progress,” the governor said. 

Democrat leaders responded with a “no,” saying the governor is trying to connect unlike issues.

"We've been talking about and taking votes on these things for the last eight months. Unless the governor has unleashed a new wave of persuasion, I expect the reaction (in the House) will be the same,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Brown also reiterated the speaker’s stance on Rauner’s proposals regarding collective bargaining, prevailing wage and workers compensation: “There’s a general belief statewide that harming the middle class is not going to help the prosperity of Illinois," he said.

House Democrats urge the governor to “get back to talking about the budget. The budget is still Job 1,” Brown said. 

Reaction from Senate Democrats was similar.

“The governor's proposal is totally unacceptable,” said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

Patterson called it a “thinly veiled series of half measures attempting to mask (Rauner’s) intent to slash middle-class wages and benefits.”

He advocated Cullerton’s own plan, Senate Bill 318, which establishes a two-year local property tax freeze; has the state pick up a roughly $200 million payment for Chicago Public Schools; and changes the payment schedule or “ramp” for CPS.

It would also end the state’s general aid formula for schools by June 1, 2017, to be replaced by a new one drafted much like in the Rauner proposal. It does not include changes to collective bargaining, prevailing wage or workers compensation law. 

Senate Bill 318 passed the House on a 37 to 1 vote, with 18 members voting present, earlier this month. It has not yet been called for a vote in the House. 

Rauner argues the measures in his proposal — along with reforms such as independent legislative redistricting and term limits for elected officials — are necessary to lift Illinois from running economic crisis; instill confidence in the state’s political and economic environments; attract employers and jobs; and lift the standard of living for all.

Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute. 

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