Gov. Bruce Rauner voices limited support for Senate budget plan in annual address


Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at an event. Rauner said during his annual budget address urged state senators to consider a permanent property tax freeze to go along with a proposed permanent increase in the state income tax.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

Gov. Bruce Rauner said he would not support several aspects of a “grand bargain” budget plan put together by state Senate leaders during his annual budget address Wednesday.

Rauner — speaking to the General Assembly from the statehouse — was referencing a 13-bill package but together by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Senate minority leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). The negotiations on the package come after two years without a budget in the state. A stopgap spending bill passed in June 2016 ran out at the beginning of this year, leaving the state without any spending plan.

Rauner, however, is supportive of the Senate plan overall, calling it a sign of “real progress.”

“Democrats and Republicans are now thinking anew,” he said. “For the first time, legislators from both parties are standing together to say that Illinois must have structural change.”

Rauner said he would not support an increase in taxes on groceries and medicines and urged lawmakers to consider a permanent property tax freeze to go along with a proposed permanent increase in the state income tax.

He said passing an income tax increase without a complementary property tax freeze would be unfair to state taxpayers.

“We need a permanent property tax freeze in Illinois, just like the one the House passed last month,” he said. “Over time, as our economy grows and revenues expand, any increase in the income tax could be stepped down — dedicating future surpluses to taxpayers, not more government spending.”

In his hour-long address, Rauner presented his budget plan for the third time in his term. Neither of his two previous proposals passed through the General Assembly nor did the Democrats’ counteroffer.

Rauner proposed several cost-saving methods, including selling the state-owned James R. Thompson Center in The Loop, reforming the state’s pension system and dialing back costs from the state employee health care system.

Additionally, Rauner proposed increasing the state’s student financial aid MAP grant payments by 10 percent and increasing funding for the Illinois Department of Transportation by $200 million.

Ultimately, Rauner said, the only way to a balanced budget would be through growth in the state’s economy. The governor proposed passing term limit legislation and redistricting reform to “send a message to job creators” that Illinois is changing pace.

Rauner said the budget negotiations moving forward would be a “test of political will” but that he believes an agreement can be reached.

“If we work together and make the right decisions now, the potential of our state is unlimited,” he said.

Some state Democrats criticized the speech for not providing concrete solutions to the state budget crisis.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) criticized Rauner in a statement for being “unwilling to lay out a clear plan.”

“Gov. Rauner’s top priority has been to protect billionaires like himself who refuse to pay their fair share,” Biss said in the statement. “This leaves him with only unpalatable options like harmful cuts to key programs and tax increases on the middle class.”

Several other Senate Democrats criticized the governor after the speech for a lack of specific policy points. Cullerton, however, focused attention on the grand bargain negotiations after Rauner’s speech.

“Right now the Senate is working on this year’s budget because there isn’t one,” Cullerton said. “We need to restore stability and sanity to Illinois’ finances. That begins with a budget for the here and now. That’s what the Senate is trying to do.”

Both the Senate and the House are back in session tomorrow.

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