Pension battle between ‘Gov. Gridlock’ and ‘Madigan’s Mayor’?

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Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, shakes the hand of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, at a Chicago City Council meeting in Chicago in 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have gone from vacation buddies sharing expensive bottles of wine to political adversaries trading insults.

On Monday the relationship was reduced to name-calling.

A top mayoral aide dubbed Rauner “Governor Gridlock.”

And Rauner’s deputy chief of staff fired back by linking Emanuel to the governor’s political nemesis, dubbing Emanuel “Madigan’s Mayor.”

The catalyst for the latest salvos between the two one-time friends was a bill to help salvage two city worker pension funds. It now heads to the governor, who has vowed not to sign it without pension reform.

The Illinois Senate on Monday voted to approve the measure 41-0.

It provides for taxpayers and government employees putting more money into retirement systems that cover laborers and municipal workers. The Illinois House passed the bill in December.

But Rauner won’t support the bill without pension reform. And he questioned the use of revenue in the bill — which would resort to the city using property tax money to fund pensions after it runs out of funds from a new tax on city water and sewer service.

“The bill essentially authorizes another property tax hike on the people of Chicago and sets a funding cliff five years out without any assurances that the city can meet its obligations,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. “The governor cannot support this bill without real pension reform that protects taxpayers.”

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins didn’t mince his words in his own statement issued after the governor declared his intentions.

“Bruce Rauner is Governor Gridlock, and he is showing why nothing gets done in Springfield,” Collins wrote.

“The bill to affirm our plan to save the last two city pensions enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses. It passed 41-0 in the Senate and 91-16 in the House, both veto proof majorities. Instead of spending his time figuring out how to stop us from fixing our pensions, the governor should focus on passing a budget and fixing his own.”

The governor’s office shot back at that assessment, blaming “the Chicago machine” for a pension disaster that punishes homeowners.

“The Chicago machine created the pension mess and now wants the state to green light another hike on Chicago taxpayers,” said Lance Trover, Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for communications. “That might work for Mike Madigan and Rahm Emanuel but it’s unfair to Chicago homeowners. Madigan’s Mayor has already cost Chicago taxpayers too much.”

If Rauner waits to veto the measure until the lame duck session is over, the bill will die. New members sworn in Wednesday wouldn’t have the authority to overturn it.

But there’s still hope for pension reform. The Illinois Senate has included a pension reform bill in its budget package unveiled on Monday, which could be introduced as soon as Wednesday after new members are sworn in.

Under the city worker pension plan, city taxpayers would contribute millions more a year to the municipal workers’ and laborers’ pension funds. To pay for the increased contributions, the City Council approved a new tax on city water and sewer service. Without acting, the Municipal Employees Pension Fund would be left with a gaping hole in 2023 — even after a utility tax is fully phased in — that would require tax increases to honor the city’s commitment to reach 90 percent funding over a 40-year period.

In mid-September, the City Council easily approved the mayor’s plan to slap a 29.5 percent tax on water and sewer bills to save the Municipal Employees pension fund.

But the Illinois General Assembly still needed to sign off on employee concessions tied to the deal as well as the funding schedule the five-year ramp to actuarially required funding.

Same goes for the mayor’s plan to save the Laborers pension fund, bankrolled by a previously approved, 56 percent tax on monthly telephone bills.

Those concessions call for employees hired after Jan. 1 to become eligible for retirement at age 65 in exchange for an 11.5 percent pension contribution. That’s 3 percentage points higher than employees pay now.

Veteran employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011, get to choose between contributing 11.5 percent for the right to retire at 65 or continuing to pay 8.5 percent and waiting until 67 to retire.

The legislation would require newly elected Chicago aldermen and citywide elected officials to serve longer to achieve the maximum 80 percent city pension.

The name calling between mayoral and gubernatorial aides is just the latest episode in the increasingly testy public relationship between the two politicians.

Rahm Emanuel (center) and Bruce Rauner (second from right) outside the Paradise Valley Grill near Livingston, Montana, in 2010. Emanuel is carrying a bottle of Napa Valley Reserve, a wine produced by an exclusive invitation-only club. | David S. Lewis/Mon

Rahm Emanuel (center) and Bruce Rauner (second from right) outside the Paradise Valley Grill near Livingston, Montana, in 2010. Emanuel is carrying a bottle of Napa Valley Reserve, a wine produced by an exclusive invitation-only club. | David S. Lewis/Montana Pioneer

In the past, Rauner has questioned whether Emanuel was “just another tax-and-spend politician,” while Emanuel has said “There’s a reason nobody trusts [Rauner], and the reason is the constant inconsistency.”

Last year, Emanuel attacked his old friend, saying “Bruce Rauner is following the Donald Trump playbook of demonizing one group of people for his political advantage.”

Rauner countered that Emanuel’s “goofy personal attacks” suggest he is emulating Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

“Sometimes I think Rahm has taken his speaking lessons from Karen or something. This is not helpful. This is not helpful.”

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