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Rauner says he sees through transparency bill — raising GOP, Dem ire

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at a Thompson Center news conference Friday as University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen, left, and Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Aviv Ezra, right, listen.
| Tina Sfondeles

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday denounced a debt transparency bill that he vetoed as a form of “political manipulation” by his Democratic enemies — prompting surprise, anger and ridicule from Democrats and Republicans, who noted that the House vote to override the governor’s veto was unanimous and bipartisan.

The Debt Transparency Act would require state agencies to report monthly the amount of bills being held, liabilities that are being appropriated and liabilities that may have late interest penalties. State agencies currently submit their unpaid bills once a year in October.

On Friday, Rauner dismissed it as the political handiwork of House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

“That bill was really primarily about enabling some more political manipulation by Speaker Madigan and Comptroller Mendoza on how they can prioritize bill payment,” Rauner said. “That’s really what was behind that bill.”

Many lawmakers saw those comments as a sour-grapes response to the override, which passed the House with a 112-0 vote on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to weigh in next month.

Rauner’s comment was also considered strange for a governor continuing to try to gain back the support of Republican lawmakers after many criticized him for signing a bill to expand taxpayer-funding of abortions.

The override was one of nearly a dozen the Illinois House delivered to the governor this week. He did score a major victory, however, when the House failed to override his veto of a bill that would have prohibited local municipalities from enacting “right-to-work” zones.

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said he was happy to co-sponsor the debt transparency legislation and asked Republican colleagues to unanimously support the override.

“It was the right thing to do. #thatsleadership,” Skillicorn tweeted.

Others had stronger words for the governor’s backlash.

“This is another example of failed Governor Rauner’s alternate reality,” State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said. “The governor lost 112-0 on the override — no Republicans voted against the override.”

McSweeney said the measure will allow lawmakers and the public to know just how much the state owes, including $2.8 billion in unappropriated bills, which was detailed in a bond offering submitted by the governor’s office and the state’s budget office.

“The real question is what did the governor know about the hidden bills and when did he know it?” McSweeney said.

Mendoza’s office said the unanimous vote shows the measure represented good policy.

“That vote — 112-0 — every single Republican voting with every single Democrat, that ends the discussion over whether this is good policy or politics,” Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch said.

“Madigan did not hypnotize [Republicans] David McSweeney and Jeanne Ives to vote for the bill,” Pallasch added. “It’s just good policy and the legislators could see which side was telling the truth on this one.”

The governor, though, said he is a “strong advocate for transparency” while bringing up a months-old feud with Mendoza over technology upgrades.

“I will continue to be a strong advocate for transparency and trying to do what I can to eliminate the politicism, politicization of bill paying, which is really what’s driving a lot of this right now,” Rauner said.

Mendoza in March halted $27 million in payments for a Rauner initiative to update the state’s computer technology. The comptroller at the time said it was halted because she wasn’t confident it would save the state money long-term. The Rauner administration said stopping the payment put the residents’ “sensitive data” at risk by forcing the state to function under an outdated system.

The Illinois Senate plans to try to override the veto during the veto session next month.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown declined to comment on the governor’s remarks.

Asked about the overrides this week, Rauner said his priorities are to protect taxpayers, make sure the economy grows to help job creators and to “make sure we have a government that’s efficient, effective, transparent.”

“We set some priorities in this session and we prioritized,” Rauner said. “My vetoes, our priorities have been protected.”

Asked whether that meant the Debt Transparency Act wasn’t on the same level of priority as other vetoes, the governor reiterated that his priorities “held.”