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Rauner Calls for Compromise Ahead of Special Session

As Illinois faces the unprecedented possibility of the third fiscal year in a row dawning without a budget in place and on the eve of a special session that’s lawmakers’ last chance to head off that harsh reality, Gov. Bruce Rauner gave a short – but highly publicized – speech.

“Right now, our state is in real crisis – and the actions we take in the days ahead will determine how history remembers us. We can all do better. We must all do better for the citizens of Illinois,” Rauner said Tuesday evening.

It comes as fighting between Rauner, a Republican, and Democrats, has left government in paralysis and the universities and human services that depend on it crippled, even as fundraising, campaign spending and the fight for votes and political power escalates.

Rauner has spent his tenure striving for “reforms” he says will improve  Illinois government and that will make the economic climate more friendly to businesses, but which Democrats say are intended to minimize their party, and their allies – namely unions, as well as trial lawyers. 

Though Rauner frequently holds press conferences, gives media interviews and holds video chats on Facebook Live, a policy speech like this is rare.

He chose to give it in Springfield’s Old State Capitol, the venue where – as Rauner began his speech pointing out – President Abraham Lincoln once famously said, "a House divided against itself cannot stand."

Later in his roughly three-and-a half minute speech, Rauner said "failure to act may cause permanent damage" to Illinois. 

“On the eve of what may become one of the most important legislative sessions in Illinois history, we’re asking the General Assembly to do what those who came before us did that changed the course of history: have the courage to dare to do what is right ... to act for the people,” he said.

Rauner was clear about what he believes is right: To pass a big package Republican legislators unveiled last week, which they dubbed the “Capitol Compromise.” The spending plan (which is accompanied by education funding, local government consolidation and other measures that jump off of, but do not mirror, those Senate Democrats passed in May)  is pegged on an income tax hike, but doesn't actually include one.

Though the governor says it's "common sense" and a "compromise,” Democrats thus far aren't considering it either of those things.

Democrats’ reactions to Rauner’s remarks ranged from skeptical to downright negative. Many described it as a public relations sham, and theater, noting the irony that even as Rauner called for “unity,” his campaign has flooded television screens with ads that slam Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Democrats running for governor were among those who quickly pounced.

"Illinoisans were just subjected to the worst infomercial in our state's fiscal history—advertising more of the same hypocrisy out of Gov. Rauner that we've seen over his entire term. While saying ‘failure to act is not an option’ with regards to passing a budget, he doubles down on the very fecklessness that's gotten us here in the first place,” said Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston.

Businessman Chris Kennedy said, “Gov. Rauner promised a grand, unifying speech. Instead, all we got was a few minutes of empty remarks in an empty room. The only unifying thing Bruce Rauner is doing is bringing voters together to support radical change in Illinois.”

“Gov. Rauner is a liar, a fraud and a flake,” Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar said. “Illinoisans deserve a governor who will stay true to his word and lead our state out of financial crisis. It’s not enough to talk a good game – we have big challenges as a state and we need a governor who understands how to cut through the politics as usual and get things done that actually improve people’s lives.”

J.B. Pritzker called the address a “sham.”

“Bruce Rauner has decided he wants to give the impression that he’d like to work together to get something done. But for almost three years the people of Illinois have seen the impact of Gov. Rauner’s disastrous and divisive ‘leadership,’” Pritzker said.

Some politicians were out with a reaction even before they'd heard what Rauner had to say.

“Tonight we'll hear yet another speech about a state budget from the governor, the fourth like it he's given. Since he's taken office all he's done is give speeches and run TV ads – and he's passed zero budgets,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in an early statement. “Under Gov. Rauner today Illinois is dead last in education funding, Illinois has the worst credit rating of any state in the history of the country, and for three years running Illinois is the only state without a budget. Talk is cheap. Actions matter."

Rauner currently has no budget to sign into law or to veto: Though the Senate, with only Democratic votes, approved a spending plan and tax hikes to pay for it, that hasn't happened in the House.

Madigan has directed state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) to be the point man for House Democrats on the budget.

Harris says since the end of May, when the General Assembly’s regular session adjourned, he’s been talking with legislators and others about budget possibilities. But he was tight-lipped about when House Democrats will publicly introduce their own budget plan, and what may be in it. He said first, he will share those ideas with fellow House Democrats.

“First of all we have to be sure there’s support in our caucus,” Harris said Tuesday. “Some ideas have had strong support; others ideas not such strong support … At the end of the day we know how many votes we have to get so we will keep working and keep compromising ‘til we get that number of votes on the board.”

The 10-day special session begins Wednesday at noon. The 2018 fiscal year begins July 1. 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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