Rauner Pitches Turnaround Agenda to City Council

Gov. Bruce Rauner has vowed to shake up Springfield, and today, he shook up Chicago's City Council. According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it was the first appearance by a sitting governor before that chamber. The governor made a clear proposition to the council: help him with his turnaround agenda and he'll help Chicago get out of its financial mess. Will today's olive branch lead to some sort of deal?

Comparing himself to David walking into the Lion’s den, the governor gave an 8-minute speech. He said city lawmakers might have to accept some things they don’t like in exchange for things they’re asking for from Springfield – namely, relief to the city’s pension crisis and a city owned casino. He said he’s ready to deal, but it won’t come for free.

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“Illinois as a state is in a terrible financial crisis,” he said. “We don’t have the money to simply bail out Chicago. It’s not gonna happen. I’m eager to be your partner in a turnaround that benefits Chicago and our great state. But to achieve that we must work together. For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs.”

What Illinois needs, in Rauner’s eyes, is support for his turnaround agenda. That includes establishing local right-to-work zones, allowing municipalities to vote on limiting collective bargaining for public employees, and lower wages for contract work.

Publicly, there are no signs yet of a grand bargain on all of this. Privately, the governor and mayor say they meet constantly to hash out the issues.

On right-to-work, the answer is a resounding no. The City Council voted just minutes before his speech to reject the governor’s call for right-to-work zones, to which the governor responded positively, saying that all he wanted was for local municipalities to vote on whether or not to establish union-free zones.

The mayor indicated that further reforms to the state’s compensation laws for injured workers could be an area of agreement.

But the camps are digging their heels in on the Chicago teachers’ $700 million pension crisis. The mayor is demanding that Springfield end Chicagoans so called double taxation on pensions – meaning they pay CPS pensions out of the city property tax and downstate pensions out of the income tax. 

“The governor always rails against high taxes,” Emanuel said. “If you are really against taxes, why would you allow people in the city of Chicago to be taxed twice?”

“The city of Chicago, even adjusting for income levels, receives a disproportionate amount of money, many hundreds of millions of dollars that no other community gets,” Rauner said. “And we have to keep that in mind when talking about how Chicago may be different on certain pension payments.”

While the governor was delivering his message to City Council, in Springfield, Democratic lawmakers sent a message to the governor. House Speaker Michael Madigan called lawmakers to vote on Rauner’s proposed cuts to human services: Almost all Democrats voted no, and Republicans voted present.

Meanwhile, the scene outside the City Council chambers was raucous. Immediately after, a group of labor leaders packed the City Hall lobby to vehemently protest the governor’s agenda.

They say he’s failed to reach out to them.

“We have not had any meaningful discussion,” said Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez. “Establishing right-to-work zones anywhere in the state is offensive to us. He doesn’t have a problem with belonging to groups that represent common interest in business, yet he doesn’t like workers that try to do that for themselves. What it’s designed to do is make those with means more powerful than those that aspire to get it.” 

And it was a very busy day at City Council. Aldermen honored the late Cardinal Francis George, with Archbishop Blase Cupich giving an invocation. They approved the $5 million reparations package for remaining victims of torture at the hands of disgraced former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. And it was the last City Council meeting for 11 aldermen who will not be back next term, including Bob Fioretti, 11th ward’s James Balcer, 17th ward’s Latasha Thomas, and 38th ward’s Tim Cullerton who is retiring. The new City Council takes its place Monday, May 18.

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