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Rauner says budget doable 'if we work together' — Dems say 'he caused this'

Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers at the State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD — As protesters shouted “budget first” outside the Illinois House chamber, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday promised big changes to the state’s education funding formula and its criminal justice system, all while minimally mentioning the budget impasse.

In his second State of the State address before the Illinois General Assembly, the Republican governor announced a push for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton’s pension reform legislation, urging both chambers to pass the bill legislation “without delay.”

Rauner also announced a 10-point education plan, which included working with Cullerton to increase state support for education, focusing resources on low income and rural school districts, without taking money away from other districts.

Despite what his administration characterizes as an emphasis on bipartisanship and a change in tone, Rauner also pushed for local government control, term limits and redistricting reform — all issues Democrats have rejected.

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“To create true long term property tax relief for our taxpayers, we’ve got to give local governments a way to control costs,” Rauner said. “Some have said local control is impossible, and yet many in this Chamber have embraced it before, voting repeatedly to give Chicago more control in its contracting and collective bargaining rules.”

Rauner spoke of a divide in the state’s economy — with growth in “white-collar communities in the Chicago area” which have been able to “overcome the financial mismanagement that is now strangling Chicago and Cook County.”

He talked of a struggle for the rest of the state: “Too often, we’ve been losin.’”

He urged an end to the budget impasse while concluding his speech: “If each of us commits to serious negotiation based on mutual respect for our co-equal branches of government, there’s not a doubt in my mind we can come together to pass a balanced budget alongside reforms. If we work together, Illinois can be both compassionate and competitive.”

For most of Rauner’s 35-minute speech, protesters from various organizations representing unions, senior care workers and child care workers shouted “Budget first!” The chants could be heard as Rauner stopped to take a breath. He was met with those words again as he left the House chamber.

Unions and groups affected by the budget impasse came out in force to denounce the speech, including the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which called his address a distraction from his “failure to fulfill his primary responsibility — to negotiate and enact a state budget.”

But pro-business groups hailed Rauner’s calls for workers’ compensation reform, a new economic development partnership and investing in education.

“The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association strongly agrees that reinvigorating our economy must continue to be a top priority for leaders in the state,” the group said in a statement. “Illinois cannot afford to wait and risk losing another 14,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs this year that serve as the backbone of our middle class.”

The Illinois Working Together coalition of unions saw nothing new in Rauner’s remarks.

“Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration has been an unmitigated disaster for the working people and most vulnerable citizens of Illinois,” the labor organization said in a statement.

“He has repeatedly shown an inability or unwillingness to work together, instead forcing conflict and demanding divisive policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. He said nothing today to change that.”

Cullerton, who was mentioned twice in Rauner’s speech and portrayed as a cooperative player, said he appreciated Rauner’s support for pension reform and willingness to come up with a better school funding system. But he pointed out some key points of disagreement.

“On a daily basis our safety net is unraveling, leaving disabled seniors and homeless veterans nowhere to go,” Cullerton said in his statement. “We’re not honoring our student aid commitments to college students. We’re not providing any public support to our public universities and colleges. That’s all because of the stance the governor has taken over the state’s budget. He caused this. He can end it.”

Cullerton urged the General Assembly to find ways to work together to solve problems now, saying Rauner’s first year in office “didn’t work for anyone.”

At a press conference following the address, House Speaker Mike Madigan brought up three state workers impacted by the impasse, including a case manager for a breast and cervical cancer center at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago, as well as the executive director of the Illinois Coalition against Sexual Assault. They described cut services that threatened to close the door for rape victims and cancer patients.

Madigan said he would have “appreciated” Rauner talking about the budget impasse in his speech.

“It’s very interesting that the governor would come before a joint session of the General Assembly, speaking to the state of the state of the state of Illinois and decline to comment that we don’t have a full budget for this particular fiscal year,” Madigan said. “I certainly would have appreciated had he done that, had he offered some comment as to why that happened.”

He urged Rauner to change his mind on issues affecting the middle class.

“I think we have a real good prescription for solving our problems, which would be for the governor to take a little different view of what should be done in terms of this agenda that’s he got for middle class families,” Madigan said.

As for not being mentioned in the speech as a team player, Madigan said he was “OK” with that: “I’ll survive that,” he joked.

“I’m not focused on personalities. I’m not focused on divide and conquer. I’m focusing on the issues,” Madigan said.

Republican leaders praised Rauner’s speech. Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno called it “conciliatory.” Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called Rauner “a man that wants to get things done.”

“We’re adults. We should get the job done,” Durkin said of solving the budget impasse, while urging Madigan to jump in at any time.

“I encourage him to,” Durkin said.

Both pointed the finger in the state’s budget impasse at Madigan.

“He’s willing to talk about things as long as he doesn’t have to make any fundamental changes to the status quo, and that’s what the governor is asking for. That’s what’s the speech was about today,” Radogno said.

In his own corner, Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who has broken ranks with Madigan in the past, told reporters he’s willing to lock himself in a room with House Democrats to come up with a solution to the budget mess.

He brought a sleeping bag, backpack and a bottle of water to his news conference to prove his point. He said following the leadership of one man, Madigan, is following “plantation politics.”

“We don’t do anything until he moves,” Dunkin said. “That’s a planation mentality.”

State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) shows the sleeping bag he says he will use if fellow Democrats will lock themselves in a room with him to hash out a state budget. Sun-Times Media.