Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) and Gov. Bruce Rauner | File photos

Emanuel-Rauner tensions rise over phone tax, Thompson Center sale

SHARE Emanuel-Rauner tensions rise over phone tax, Thompson Center sale
SHARE Emanuel-Rauner tensions rise over phone tax, Thompson Center sale

SPRINGFIELD — The war between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner escalated again on Thursday, with Rauner declaring he won’t support a phone-tax increase that would help Chicago’s cash-strapped city government, and Emanuel accusing the governor of torpedoing a compromise deal to sell the Thompson Center state office building.

The latest squabbles showed the overt distrust between the onetime friends — and added to the uncertainty of whether an Illinois government budget deal can be reached before the state’s financial year ends on June 30.

Illinois has been without a budget for more than 700 days, with government operations being funded through a series of court orders. Social-service agencies and state universities are among the groups that have been hurt badly by the impasse, which also has stalled the awarding of state taxpayer dollars to schools, including the broke Chicago Public School system.

Amid the chaos, lawmakers on a bipartisan basis on May 31 approved a wide-ranging telecommunications bill that included a hike in Chicago’s monthly 911 telephone-bill surcharge by 28 percent — from $3.90 to $5 — with 911 surcharges in other communities to rise from 87 cents to $1.50. The Chicago City Council and other local governments would need to approve the increases before they take effect, according to the legislation.

In Chicago, the increase would bring in roughly $27 million a year that Emanuel desperately needs.

But a Rauner administration memo on Thursday noted that the governor “has been very clear that the surcharge increases would be unacceptable” in part because Chicago “has already received two significant [phone-tax increases] in the last four years.”

Knowing it would be dead on arrival, the Democratic-controlled Legislature hasn’t yet sent Rauner the legislation, which also includes long-term funding for 911 systems statewide.

Rauner is requesting a new bill be sent to him without the surcharges in the interest of public safety, but it was unclear whether that would happen as Democrats spar with him on education funding and other budget matters.

Amid the phone-tax brouhaha, Emanuel fired a shot of his own, disclosing that Rauner had passed on a chance to sell the Thompson Center, which could provide money to both the state and city governments.

The Democratic mayor said he offered to drop his objections to the sale —and agree to “maximum zoning” for the site to maximize its financial potential — if Rauner would sign off on the mayor’s plan to save two of four city pension funds “as a show of good faith.”

But Rauner turned down the deal, prompting Emanuel to say the governor is “congenitally incapable” of compromise.

“I think he is congenitally incapable of saying ‘Yes.’You asked for something. I’ll get it done for you,” Emanuel said. “I’m not sure he knows how to say `yes.’ I’m not sure he’s capable of it. . . . Politics is the art of the possible. And he’s making everything impossible.”

Asked about the Thompson Center deal, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the governor “may not view the [Thompson Center] bill as significant, but it is significant. . . .

“The governor is going to have to work with the mayor of Chicago,” said Madigan, a top Emanuel ally.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said he had been involved in the Rauner administration’s dealings with the mayor regarding the Thompson Center — and that there are “trust issues” between the two sides.

Durkin said Emanuel’s demand for pension assistance from Springfield as part of the Thompson Center deal was out of line. The pension issue, he said, should be dealt with as part of larger, statewide pension-reform package that Rauner has been seeking.

The Rauner administration said the mayor’s offer wasn’t a “fair trade” and instead asked Senate Democrats to send the governor a bill targeting repeat gun offenders that passed both chambers last month.

Rauner aides on Thursday evening contended Emanuel didn’t want the gun bill sent to the governor because it would disprove the mayor’s argument that the governor can’t get bipartisan deals done.

“No one’s buying whatever nonsense the governor’s office is selling. They already said the governor would sign the gun bill,” Adam Collins, Emanuel’s communications director, wrote in an emailed statement. “The facts here are indisputable. They have said selling the Thompson Center is a top priority for them and that it will net the state $300 million. They told us they needed assurances on zoning. We offered the governor’s office exactly what they asked for, and they said no.”

Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, who co-sponsored the gun measure, said that he’s not interested in the bill being caught up in a political game. Raoul sent the bill on Thursday, and it will be signed on Friday afternoon.

Tina Sfondeles reported from Springfield. Fran Spielman reported from Chicago.

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