Rauner applauds—but is he cheering tax bill or giving it a slow clap?

Gov. Bruce Rauner. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been careful about voicing support for the Republican tax overhaul in Washington, but on Wednesday he told a southern Illinois radio audience that he’s “applauding Congress.”

And hours later, the Illinois Republican Party — heavily funded by the Republican governor — tweeted a thumbs-up for the plan.

So the governor is a fan of the bill that passed the U.S. House?

Maybe. Maybe not.

“The Governor has not explicitly supported or opposed the bill,” campaign spokesman Justin Giorgio said. “He has said that he is applauding Congress for working together to address the problem.”

Rauner has been the state GOP’s largest funder – filling its coffers with millions of his own money – but a party spokesman said there is no connection whatsoever between Rauner’s and the party’s comments.

“Economists agree: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will boost wages, create jobs, and lead to a better standard of living for the American people. Let’s pass tax reform!” the state GOP tweeted about 11:30 a.m., linking to a CNBC article.

GOP spokesman Aaron DeGroot told the Sun-Times “tweets from the Illinois Republican Party do not indicate what the governor’s position is on any given issue.”

“His comments stand alone,” DeGroot said, adding the party tweeted support for the tax overhaul on Sept. 14, and the party’s chairman, Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, penned an op-ed on Oct. 2 in support of tax reform.

“Illinois Republicans in Washington will continue their push for tax cuts for Illinois families because Democrats like [Illinois House Speaker] Mike Madigan and J.B. Pritzker continue to choose tax hikes over reform,” DeGroot said.

The governor’s office declined to provide further comment about his radio remarks and whether the interview now signals Rauner’s support for the plan — after he steadfastly refused to weigh in on it.

Rauner chose his words carefully, but sounded generally positive in a radio interview with Tom Miller on WJPF on Wednesday morning.

Miller asked the governor if the D.C. tax reform plan would help him achieve his economic goals in the state.

“I want them [Japan] building more good factories with high-paying wages in southern Illinois. That’s what we’re in town to do today,” Rauner said in the interview.

Miller countered:  “Will D.C.’s tax reform plan, if passed, help you perform that task more efficiently, with better tractions?”

The governor said he hopes the federal government makes the tax code “more competitive and lowers [the] tax burden.”

“We need to reduce the tax burden on our working families, we need to reduce the tax burden on our companies, especially our small businesses that create most of the jobs. I’m applauding Congress. I hope they come through,” Rauner said.

“We’ll see. It’s a tough battle. What we need in Illinois is tax reduction. That’s why I want to roll back the Madigan income tax hike. I want to roll it back down to three percent, where it was years ago. And I want to help us with our property taxes. We have the highest in America, they’re crushing our working families and our small businesses, and I want to freeze our property taxes and give every voter the ability to do a referendum and lower their property tax burden, if that’s what they want to do.”

Republicans stuck together on Tuesday to push through a tax overhaul. The Senate Budget Committee advanced the tax measure to the full Senate as two wavering Republicans fell in line. The fate of the plan, however, remains unclear.

The Senate voted 52-48 to start debating the bill on Wednesday and could start voting on amendments Thursday evening.

The legislation would make multiple changes to the tax code. It would permanently slash corporate tax rates and temporarily reduce many individual tax rates. Democrats say it won’t help the middle-class and would largely benefit the uber-wealthy.

Speaking to reporters on Nov. 17, Rauner declined to take a stance on the Republican revamping of the tax code.

“Federal tax reform is long overdue. We need to lower the tax burden on the federal level. We also have to lower the tax burden at the state level. And my focus is obviously here at the state level.”

That’s a reference to the Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly who voted to boost the individual Illinois income tax rate to 4.95 percent, effective last July.

“I’m not going to weigh into the detail that’s being debated in Congress right now at on the federal level. I have shared a few thoughts with federal officials, but I’m not going to weigh in to the media on this,” Rauner said.

Contributing: Associated Press

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