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Rauner takes shot at Madigan law practice; speaker calls governor ‘extreme’

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner ramped up the rhetoric on Tuesday, accusing Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan of a personal conflict of interest — saying the Democrat’s law firm made millions of dollars off of high property taxes.

Rauner took aim personally at Madigan as lawmakers in Springfield debated a freeze on Illinois property taxes on Tuesday. Rauner criticized the property tax debate on Tuesday, calling it a “waste of time.”

Rauner then blasted Madigan, saying he stood to personally profit from a failure of a property tax freeze.

That drew a strong retort from Madigan later in the day. At a Capitol news conference, the speaker said he has always held strong ethical standards in his law business and encouraged Rauner to stop “functioning in the extreme.”

Madigan added that his law practice has to do with contesting errors in assessments. He encouraged Rauner to maintain a level of professionalism and repeatedly said he vowed to do the same.

“I imposed strict requirements on my law firm and myself to ensure ethical conduct. I go to great lengths to make certain there is a clear division between my practice and my actions as a public official. Any potential client seeking a state benefit is rejected. If a client requests an intercession with a state agency I refuse. . . . Those policies have been in place for 20, 25, 30 years and I have religiously followed those policies,” Madigan told reporters. “I’ve been through these things before. I know that name-calling and leveling of accusations doesn’t do any good for the legislative process.”

That was a clear reference to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was repeatedly at odds with Madigan and other lawmakers before he was indicted in 2009.

The recent dust-up between Madigan and Rauner is a sign that there’s no foreseeable end to a budget stalemate that had Madigan vowing to call his members to session every week this summer.

While Madigan said he is attempting to be “reasonable” by calling various measures to placate Rauner, the governor called the votes phony.

“There is not a real sincere focus on controlling costs in local government and truly freezing property taxes for the long term, and giving local control for the long term,” Rauner told reporters outside the Executive Mansion in Springfield.

He called debate on the issue in the Legislature a “general, vague discussion and more commentary.”

“Our property taxes — it’s not debatable — that they are punishing our homeowners, punishing our small business owners, punishing Illinois’ competitiveness, causing us to lose jobs, causing family incomes in Illinois to be lower than they should be,” Rauner said. “It’s our biggest tax problem. That’s not debatable and for the Senate to spend time today debating or wondering how important property taxes are or how big a problem they are, that’s a waste of time.”

The Illinois Senate and House on Tuesday debated whether to freeze the level that local governments charge in property taxes.

Rauner reiterated on Tuesday that he wants a property tax freeze before he’ll agree to talk about other budgetary issues. And he wants to other business-friendly changes, too.

“We’re being reasonable. We feel he is functioning in the extreme as he advances these issues,” Madigan said.

Earlier Tuesday, the House Revenue and Finance Committee endorsed two property tax freezes, despite Republicans saying they fall short of Rauner’s agenda.

Illinois is without a budget deal for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Rauner has said he might approve a tax increase to help balance the budget but only if lawmakers agree to five items: setting term limits, redistricting and remapping rules, reforming property taxes, workers compensation and tort reform.