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Fact-check: Truth in jeopardy in Mendoza’s claim blaming Daley for budget mess

Image from Mendoza campaign website, https://thedaleytrouble.org/

Image from Mendoza campaign website, https://thedaleytrouble.org/

In her bid for Chicago mayor, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is quick to highlight the battles she waged against former Gov. Bruce Rauner during the state’s historic budget impasse.

Now, she’s out with an interactive ad attacking rival Bill Daley for not taking a similar stand during the two years when Illinois operated without a budget after he served on the Republican governor’s transition team following the 2014 election.

The ad, a website in the style of the game show “Jeopardy!,” invites viewers to play “The Daley Trouble” and “learn more about Bill’s background.” The answer to all the categories is, of course, “Who is Bill Daley?”

One of them, titled “Rauner Budget Crisis,” offers a description that invited deeper scrutiny.

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“After co-chairing Bruce Rauner’s transition team and writing the blueprint for the governor’s four years of crisis and destruction, he stood by and remained silent,” it reads, simultaneously chiding Daley for failing to protest Rauner’s actions in office and accusing him of charting the course for the now departed Republican.

That head-spinning logic aside, Mendoza’s claim made us wonder what recommendations Daley and other co-chairs of Rauner’s transition team had made in their report.

There’s no need to relitigate the budget crisis here. As we’ve pointed out in previous fact-checks, both Rauner and Democrats share responsibility for bringing it about.

But we were curious whether the transition report itself could be considered a “blueprint” for the policies Rauner late pushed. The short answer is no.

“Generic campaign themes”

 Mendoza’s ad links Daley, son of one former Chicago mayor and brother of another, to Rauner, who was defeated after one term by now Gov. J.B. Pritzker. In another “Jeopardy!”-style tile, she highlights a $1 million dollar donation Daley recently received from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, a big financial backer of Rauner and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, left, and former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, right.| Sun-Times file photos by Rich Hein.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, left, and former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, right.| Sun-Times file photos by Rich Hein.

The Griffin connection provides a foil for Mendoza’s own well-documented confrontations with Rauner over how the state pays its bills, around which she nurtured a statewide reputation as a savvy administrator of the state’s finances who could work across the aisle in Springfield to get things done.

But her claim that Daley somehow paved the way for the role Rauner played in the state’s protracted budget impasse lacks substance.

Daley did not single-handedly draft the transition team’s report, as Mendoza’s ad suggests. Instead, he was among a bipartisan group of 28 co-chairs who signed off on the document after consulting with business and community leaders across the state. Fellow Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson was also a co-chair, along with former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican who more recently served on Democrat Pritzker’s transition team.

What’s more, there is no evidence the contents of the report guided Rauner’s decision to engage in a two-year squabble with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that stymied the state’s ability to pay vendors and jeopardized funding for everything from social services to higher education.

A news article published just before Rauner was sworn into office described his transition team’s report as little more than a reproduction of the Republican’s “largely generic campaign themes.” Indeed, the report itself notes the team was “not in a position to provide specific recommendations to budgetary solutions.”

Transition reports such as Rauner’s typically lack specifics, rendering Daley’s role in the process largely ceremonial.

“You read into it what you want to read into it if the details aren’t there,” said Charles N. Wheeler III, who directs the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois-Springfield and covered state politics for decades.

We asked Mendoza’s campaign to show us where the report proposed controversial policies Rauner later sought to implement in a way that contributed to gridlock. A spokeswoman pointed us to several passages that highlighted the need to improve the state’s business climate under the new administration, only one of which proposed the governor take any form of concrete action.

That passage urged Rauner to look into lowering workers’ compensation rates, but the only specifics mentioned were suggestions to review existing legislation to ensure Illinois aligned with similar states and appoint “highly capable workers’ compensation commissioners and arbitrators.”

Rauner did push for major changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system after he took office, but little of what he sought — and did not get from a Democratic Legislature — was telegraphed in the transition report tied to Daley. Among the controversial pieces of what Rauner called his Turnaround Agenda that were not included in the report: freezing property taxes, imposing term limits on lawmakers, capping the prevailing wage and establishing local “right-to-work” zones.

Even the vague mention in the report of reducing workers’ compensation rates wasn’t an automatic non-starter with legislative Democrats, who in 2011 approved a bill aimed at reducing those costs. What Democrats later took issue with was Rauner’s demand for sweeping change before giving that measure a chance to work.

Asked to explain how Mendoza was connecting the dots between the report’s loosely-defined priorities and Rauner’s later decisions as the state’s chief executive, her spokeswoman sent us a response that essentially repeated the ad’s original claim.

Our ruling

Susana Mendoza’s ad says that as part of the governor’s transition team, Bill Daley wrote “the blueprint” for what she calls Rauner’s “four years of crisis and destruction.”

Daley helped produce a report that outlined general priorities for Rauner’s incoming administration on a long list of issues. But there is no evidence that document, heavy on generalities but light on concrete policy recommendations, guided Rauner’s later actions that contributed to two years of gridlock with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Mendoza’s claim that Daley laid the framework for Rauner’s role in the state’s protracted budget impasse boils down to a broad accusation of guilt by association. We rate it False.

The Better Government Association runs PolitiFact Illinois, the local arm of the nationally renowned, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking enterprise that rates the truthfulness of statements made by governmental leaders and politicians. BGA’s fact-checking service has teamed up weekly with the Sun-Times, in print and online. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.

Sources

 Campaign ad: “The Daley Trouble,” Susana Mendoza for Mayor, Feb. 13, 2019

“Did Rauner really pour $1 billion ‘down the drain’?” PolitiFact Illinois, June 25, 2018

“Pritzker’s flimsy claim that Rauner delayed school funding,” PolitiFact Illinois, Sept. 30, 2018

“Illinois’ wealthiest man giving $1 million to Chicago mayoral candidate Bill Daley,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 13, 2019

“Rauner shouldn’t delay borrowing money to pay Illinois’ bills, comptroller says,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 7, 2017

“Endorsement: Susana A. Mendoza for Illinois comptroller,” Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 8, 2018

“Endorsement: Susana Mendoza for Illinois comptroller,” State Journal-Register, Oct. 15, 2018

“Endorsement: Re-elect Susana Mendoza for comptroller and Mike Frerichs for treasurer,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 12, 2018

“House unanimously votes to override Rauner’s objection to Debt Transparency Act,” Belleville News-Democrat, Oct. 25, 2017

“Bipartisan override of debt transparency veto clouds Rauner’s view,” Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 8, 2017

Report: Transition Co-chairs to the Governor-elect, January 2015

“Bruce Rauner becomes Illinois governor Monday, but honeymoon likely short,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 9, 2015

Phone interview: Charles N. Wheeler III, director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois-Springfield, Feb. 13, 2019

Email interview: Rebecca Evans, Mendoza spokeswoman, Feb. 14, 2019

“Bruce Rauner unveils broad agenda in Illinois State of State address,” Northwest Herald, Feb. 4, 2015

Workers’ comp changes cut costs,” Illinois Times, Nov. 5, 2015