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Rauner leaves little to chance, seeks separate CPS, pension votes

"We could just pass the pension reform bill and pass the CPS payment bill, both of which are there. These exist. They either don't have to be drafted or negotiated," Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday morning. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Days after the “grand bargain” faltered in the Illinois Senate — with Democrats pointing the finger squarely at Gov. Bruce Rauner — the governor on Tuesday said he now supports signing the pension and CPS bills “now,” whether or not it’s in the budget package.

“We don’t have to do a balanced budget today comprehensively to get CPS $215 million today. We could just pass the pension reform bill and pass the CPS payment bill, both of which are there. These exist. They either don’t have to be drafted or negotiated. And it’s done. We save $1 billion for Illinois taxpayers a year and we get $200 million right now for CPS,” Rauner told reporters in Chicago after speaking at the Internet of Manufacturing Business Conference.

Rauner is under massive pressure after Chance the Rapper put a national spotlight on CPS’ financial woes — and after the “grand bargain” last week fell apart when Republican votes were pulled off. Top Democrats say it was Rauner who nixed the votes.

Hours before Chance announced Monday that he’s donating $1 million to CPS as a “call to action,” the Rauner administration released a memo recommending two options to provide $215 million needed for teacher pensions: have Mayor Emanuel use surplus tax-increment-financing funds to plug the hole, or separate a pension reform bill from the Illinois Senate’s “grand bargain” and include one-time funding for CPS.

Rauner on Tuesday pushed for those two options, saying the use of TIF funds — intended for community redevelopment — would help redevelop communities by improving public schools.

“If CPS wants or really desperately needs hundreds of millions of dollars more as they claim, it seems to me a reasonable use of money is to use TIF funds. It’s right there in cash. Nothing has to change,” Rauner said, adding the Chicago Teachers Union has supported the use of TIF funds for CPS’ financial woes.

He also said he’s had “private discussions in the last few days” about how to get CPS money “today without negotiations, without politics, without new changes.”

“The Senate has introduced it and we’ve got the pension pickup bill there as well. Let’s go do those two things right now, and I said you can combine them into one bill and pass one bill because they are paid for and some of that money, some of that, could got to Chicago,” Rauner said.

The governor said separating the pension bill from the package “might actually make it [the package] easier” to pass: “It’s just one less thing that needs to be included.”

Rauner denied reports that he told Senate Republicans to “turn away” from the plan last week, and said he wants senators to “keep negotiating, keep working.” He said he still wants a property tax freeze paired with the rolling back of a proposed income tax hike. And he said he needs changes in the workers’ compensation bill that make the state’s costs “at least middle of the path, where we’re at least competitive with other states.” He didn’t offer specifics as to what those changes may entail.

Speaking at an event alongside the governor Tuesday afternoon in Normal, state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said “Senate Democrats are trying to kill any opportunity we have.”

“They have denied us the opportunity to present a complete balanced budget. They’ve asked for a lot of, frankly, smoke and mirrors on spending caps. And I have to say speaking on behalf of myself and of many of my Senate Republican colleagues, I’m afraid that if the Senate Democrats don’t work more towards a compromise, they will have effectively killed the package.”

The pension bill faces union opposition and has failed twice in the Senate. Last week, Senate President John Cullerton on the Senate floor accused Rauner of interjecting himself in the process to kill the package.

Senate Democrats say they’re in a holding pattern, waiting to see what Senate Republicans choose to do with the plan.

Meanwhile the Senate Democrats held hearings in which they pointedly asked Rauner agency and higher education heads where they’d make cuts “to help him [Rauner] plug the $4.6 billion hole in his budget” in light of the Senate plan faltering.

“We currently have no operating budget as of January 1,” Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board, said. “We would like an operating budget. We encourage you to come up with a budget and do anything you can to provide us with funds, but we are currently operating with zero dollars.”