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Gov. Bruce Rauner | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Rauner uses veto to remove phone tax, ensure 911 funding

SHARE Rauner uses veto to remove phone tax, ensure 911 funding
SHARE Rauner uses veto to remove phone tax, ensure 911 funding

SPRINGFIELD — With a looming deadline, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday used his veto powers to rewrite a bill to ensure 911 centers are funded amid the state budget impasse, while removing what he called a “massive tax hike on Illinois families and businesses.”

“The majority in the General Assembly waited until the last moment to send this 9-1-1 service reauthorization bill to my desk. Unfortunately, those lawmakers also inserted a major tax hike into this bill, a tax that’s both excessive and unwarranted, and that I strongly oppose,” Rauner said in his veto statement.

“This extreme increase is unfair and indefensible. But the majority in the General Assembly is using the threat of cancellation of 9-1-1 serviceson Saturdayas leverage to force this tax hike through over my opposition.”

Removed from the bill are the surcharge increases. He also revoked the sunsets on the Emergency Telephone System Act.

In his veto, Rauner accused Democrats of a “mean-spirited strategy” that the majority has used for years to use “vulnerable residents and essential services hostage as leverage to force excessive, unwarranted tax hikes .”

“This practice must stop,” Rauner said.

Lawmakers on a bipartisan basis on May 31 approved the 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, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had hoped to use the $27 million in annual revenue generated by the tax hike to shore up the Laborer’s pension fund well into the next decade. The phone tax hike would have freed up money in the corporate fund used to save the Laborer’s pension fund.The bill became a source of contention for the two amid budgetary talks.

Pressed to identify a Plan B, a top mayoral aide said, “I don’t think that’s a question that needs to be answered because everyone is in the same boat as Chicago. At some point, this is gonna have to become law. We’re confident the Legislature will do the right thing.”

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins called the veto ” literally a microcosm of the difficulties of the last three years.”

“This is the second bill the governor has vetoed that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. That’s a challenging way to govern,” Collins said in a statement.

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel teed off on Rauner for opposing a 28.2 percent telephone tax hike that will free up money that can be used to shore up the Laborers pension fund “well into the next decade.”

“The 911 cable bill passed with 51 votes in the Senate…and 81 votes in the House….It affects Downstate communities [and] the whole state. That’s why it received overwhelming, bi-partisan votes across urban, suburban [and] rural areas,” the mayor said.

The mayor noted that the governor’s threat to veto the telephone tax hike came just hours after City Hall went public with Emanuel’s failed attempt to broker an end the marathon state budget stalemate.

The Rauner administration called the surcharge increases “unacceptable”in part because Chicago “has already received two significant [phone-tax increases] in the last four years.”

The bill now returns to lawmakers, who can either approve or reject Rauner’s changes. If lawmakers don’t take up the changes, the bill dies.

Lawmakers on Thursday approved a new version of the bill which extended the telecommunications act that allows fees to be collected and sent to 911 centers. That measure hasn’t been sent to the governor.

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