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Gov. Rauner demands deal on reforms by Sunday

Gov. Bruce Rauner addresses reporters in the executive mansion gardens.|Photo by Natasha Korecki

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner has demanded that state lawmakers deliver a package of reforms to him by Sunday. While the governor did not say what he would do if he didn’t get the reforms before the Legislature adjourns Sunday night, it’s been clear for weeks that Rauner is priming for a media blitz targeting legislative leaders.

“I cannot sign a fake budget, a phony budget, an out-of-balance budget,” Rauner said Friday. “The people of Illinois do not deserve to get a major tax hike forced on them without major, structural reform in the state. Today for the first time in several weeks that reform will now be considered again. That’s good news. I hope they’re sincere in their comments. I haven’t seen it in actions yet, but I’m hopeful.”

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda was “absolutely on the table,” and expected leaders and staff to hash out a compromise in June. Cullerton said that lawmakers are obligated to authorize a spending plan and will do so by Sunday. The budget proposed by Democrats is some $3 billion out of balance. Rauner’s own proposed budget was at least $2.2 billion out of balance. Rauner had said his proposal was a starting point while Democrats said they welcome Rauner to propose revenue options. Rauner said he would only consider revenue if portions of his Turnaround Agenda were adopted.

“We will know by Sunday night if the comments made today are sincere or not,” Rauner said. Rauner has proposed a series of pro-business, anti-union measures in his Turnaround Agenda, but didn’t move forward with legislative language until late last week. Rauner would not say what level of reforms he would find acceptable, saying he didn’t want to negotiate in the media.

“Believe me, when we have a deal, we’re all gonna know it,” he said.

Of remarks by leaders that they’re willing to talk reforms but cannot implement them by Sunday because there’s not enough time, Rauner said: “Let me be clear, that’s baloney. We’ve been talking about these issues for months and we, in the spirit of compromise, have taken many serious reforms off the table.”

Most notably, Rauner pulled back on his push to get right to work zones in Illinois. But that proposal had failed to gain traction across the state and even members of his own party had not embraced it.

“I don’t need to sleep this weekend,” Rauner said. “I’ll be here all weekend.”

Rauner said if negotiations must continue past the May 31 deadline, he will not call a special session because they’re costly for taxpayers.

“What I will do is ask members of the Legislature, who are designated to be negotiators in the process, to meet with me and my staff and my team,” Rauner said.

Rauner was asked about a Sun-Times report this week that revealed a top Rauner appointee, Education Secretary Beth Purvis, was being paid her $250,000 salary — one of the highest in the state — out of the Department of Human Services budget. The practice, referred to as “off-shoring” has been employed by past governors as a way of making their own agency budgets appear lean.

Wasn’t that the old way of doing things he said he was going to change?

“Nobody is going to wonder whether we’re having dramatic change in our administration,” Rauner replied. “We are all about reform. We have assembled the most talented team of leaders that I know of to turn around a state government. We are going to drive a transformation: the people of Illinois deserve it.”

But Democrats have asked Rauner to testify before a House Human Services committee to explain why his office authorized $26 million in cuts from DHS three weeks after penning Purvis’ contract.