Rauner on his high horse, where he’s most comfortable

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner | G-Jun Yam/AP file photo

Gov. Bruce Rauner, who demagogued his way into office on the back of an Illinois income tax increase, resaddled that trusted pony Wednesday for another campaign ride.

The governor could barely contain his phony outrage on the eve of an Illinois House effort to override his vetoes of a state budget that gifts him with both a functioning government and a re-election platform.

“A disaster” for the people of the state of Illinois, the billionaire governor said of the budget that raises the individual income tax rate to 4.95 percent — slightly less than what it was when he first got out his checkbook to make this state his grandest acquisition.

The 32 percent jump is not just a slap in the face, but a “two-by-four smacked across the forehead,” the governor said.

The man does know how to play to the crowd. Too bad he doesn’t know how to lead.


The odd thing is that this is essentially the same tax increase the governor campaigned against in 2014, and in between being against it then and being against it now, he was actually in favor of it — as long as he could shirk the blame and get some of his pet ideas approved in return.

All along he kept spending the money as if the state still had the revenue from the income tax hike he helped kill.

In the process, Illinois ran up a $15 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

Thanks to 15 Republican legislators in the Illinois House and one in the Senate who joined with Democrats to try to stop the bleeding in a Rauner-led government, a partial fix to the state’s two-and-a-half-year budget impasse could be at hand.

I’m not predicting the outcome of that override vote, having at least temporarily relearned my lesson after the surprise Sunday approval of the budget measures.

Those Republicans were real profiles in political courage, in my opinion, who cast their votes knowing the blowback they would face. Sure, most of them may have been motivated by the need to fund state institutions in their districts like universities and prisons, but that’s a genuine need.

The “15” have surely faced even greater pressures since the vote. Rauner said he was doing “everything possible” to keep his vetoes from being overridden. He wouldn’t explain what that included.

For anyone looking for cover to justify a flip-flop on the tax hike vote, Moody’s Investor Services provided some late Wednesday with a warning they might downgrade the state’s credit rating even if the budget goes through.

Moody’s cited concerns over the state’s unfunded pension debt and the bill backlog, neither of which are solved by the budget deal.

The ratings agency said it would take 30 to 90 days to review where the state stands, which I took as an indication we’ve got another month to show we’re making progress on those other fronts.

For those who would use that as an excuse to walk back their previous vote, I believe the downgrade will be swift and certain if there’s no budget in place this week.

If the House indeed votes to override Rauner’s vetoes with Republican help, there could not be a clearer repudiation of the governor’s approach to governing.

But Rauner still has some cards to play, including a lot of money to tell this story his way, with an emphasis on his favorite hobgoblin, House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Rauner would have you believe all those Republicans somehow fell under Madigan’s Svengali-like control, rather than being clear-minded individuals who surveyed the damage in their home districts and decided the standoff needed to end.

“This isn’t about politics. This is about doin’ the right thing for the people,” Rauner told reporters in the back room of a Hegewisch tavern when someone suggested this works well for him.

Correction. It’s always been about the politics.

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