Union protesters disrupt Rauner speech in southern Illinois

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Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to members of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce in downstate Belleville on May 1, 2015. On Monday, the governor faced taunts from union members during a speech in Belleville. | Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat via AP

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — A southern Illinois speech meant to build public support for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s legislative agenda amid a budget impasse with majority Democratic lawmakers instead turned into a test of the first-term Republican’s ability to stay on message, as he faced a flurry of taunts from union protesters.

Sign-carrying members of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 309 in Collinsville and the Caseyville-based Steamfitters Local 439 repeatedly interrupted Rauner’s nine-minute pitch at Eckert’s Country Store and Farm. The St. Clair County rally Monday afternoon followed a similar event earlier in the day in Marion.

The Illinois General Assembly is set to return to Springfield on Tuesday to continue their overtime effort to reach agreement on a budget for the fiscal year that begins next month. Rauner has said he won’t bargain on new revenue for the budget until lawmakers consider his proposed reforms.

“I’m insistent. I won’t talk about a tax hike unless we get the structural reform,” he said Monday.

RELATED: Rauner slices fee for high-paid budget consultant

Before the event, several union members noted their opposition to Rauner’s efforts to give local municipalities the power to adopt right-to-work laws for their own communities under which workers could opt out of joining unions and would not have to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Rauner has ditched the idea of such “right-to-work” zones, which were initially part of his “turnaround agenda.” But he reiterated his call for legislators to endorse other business- and political-climate changes he called critical for the state’s future before he will consider the spending plan approved by legislative leaders before their May 31 adjournment. It includes a revenue gap of at least $3 billion, which Democrats want to plug with tax increases.

“This is going to be a rough summer,” he told reporters after the rally, during which he repeatedly laid fault for the impasse with the “Chicago political machine,” a reference that drew the event’s loudest cheers of support. “They’ve just not negotiated in good faith. We need bipartisan compromise.”

Rauner said he remains focused on five key platforms, including term limits, a property tax freeze and less costly workers’ compensation insurance for employers.

The House returned to Springfield last week and adopted what Democrats touted as changes to workers’ compensation to make it more affordable for businesses, but Rauner dismissed the plan out of hand.

On Tuesday, the House will consider a property tax freeze similar to one it approved in May over howls of protest from the GOP, Rep. Jack Franks told The Associated Press on Monday. The Marengo Democrat said his proposal to freeze at 2015 levels the amount of property taxes a local government can collect without voter approval also adds a provision to answer Republican complaints. It goes farther in tightening the rules on local governments than Rauner’s idea, he said.

“It’s the governor’s plan,” Franks said, “but better.”

The Senate is also expected to take testimony on property tax proposals.

ALAN SCHER ZAGIER, Associated Press

Associated Press political writer John O’Connor in Springfield contributed to this report.

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