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Rauner returns to anti-union basics: Mark Brown

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If only public employees didn’t have the right to bargain with their local government employers over pay, benefits or anything else of importance, life would be fantastic again in Illinois.

Property taxes would plummet. Employers would again embrace Illinois as a great place to do business. Jobs would be plentiful.

That’s Gov. Bruce Rauner’s view of the world, which he doubled down on Monday by moving to the top of his agenda legislation that would strip teachers and other local government workers of their collective-bargaining rights.

Let me amend that. Although I think that’s a fair summary of what Rauner said, I believe his real world view is that taking away collective bargaining for local government employees would be just a first step toward his economic nirvana.

To reach a state of total enlightenment, Rauner would want Illinois to eliminate collective bargaining for state employees as well, then move on to breaking what’s left of organized labor in the private sector.

OPINION

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For the sake of halting the current standoff with the Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly, though, Rauner is willing to wait on those other items for now because he’s a reasonable guy just looking for a fair compromise. (Please note sarcasm.)

As you might guess, I don’t think much of Rauner’s new Local Government Taxpayers Protection Act, which he outlined Monday in a press conference in Chicago.

As part of his proposed legislation, Rauner would freeze local government property tax extensions across the state for two years.

The governor said he won’t agree to a property tax freeze without the crackdown on collective bargaining because local governments need that power to control costs. Without it, property taxes would just spike again after the temporary freeze is lifted, Rauner said.

This is at least the third time the governor has tried to sell his anti-union measures, which are anathema to Democrats (and some Republicans), by pairing them with something more politically popular.

He’s previously made it a condition of approving a state budget, then trotted it out as part of his pension reform plan.

In the past, though, Rauner always slipped the anti-union stuff into the fine print of his proposals while trying to euphemistically pass it off vaguely as “helping local governments control costs.”

This time he’s moving it front and center, which is probably where it’s really been all along.

His plan would allow local governments to declare that their workers have no voice in most of the major conditions of employment including pay, benefits and working conditions. Rauner also includes a shot at the building trades by freeing local governments from the requirement they union-scale wages.

Are you starting to get the idea Rauner has an obsession about unions?

In case you’re thinking the obsession is mine, I will gladly remind you that I am a member of a labor union, grew up in a union home (although my father was later promoted into management) and have strong feelings that workers should have the right to come together to have a say in their jobs, while recognizing that few outside government have that power these days.

In my experience, being in a union doesn’t give anyone the power to dictate contract terms to their employer. If local governments have failed to strike wise deals with their workers, that’s not the fault of workers having the right to bargain as a group.

I do happen to agree with Rauner that a property tax freeze is not a real solution.

Some of you may be wisely suspicious of politicians of all stripes lining up to enact a property tax freeze this year, wondering why they would be willing to do that.

It’s pretty simple really. Under the current property tax cap law, property tax extensions are going to be nearly frozen for the next couple of years anyway because the rate of inflation is so low.

The big cause of Illinois having high property taxes isn’t overpaid workers. It’s our over-reliance on property taxes to pay for schools.

A wiser Illinois governor than Rauner conditioned a property tax freeze on an income tax increase to fund the schools. Rauner could get that deal, but he’d rather vilify union workers.

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