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Rauner ‘cautiously optimistic’ on ‘grand bargain’ budget deal

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to students at Auburn High School, Wednesday, April 27, 2016 in Auburn, Ill. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday said he shares in the “anger” of protesters who heckled him over the state budget impasse the day before at the University of Illinois’s Urbana campus.

But Rauner painted himself as an “optimist” in the final four weeks of regular session, as the Illinois House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday.

“I’ve been hopeful in the past. It’s taken longer but right now and for awhile, there have been working groups and bipartisan meetings of legislators talking about reforms,” Rauner said. “No matter what, bringing people together around a grand bargain, it takes time but I’m cautiously optimistic [that] we’re getting there.”

That “grand bargain” to Rauner means a 2016 and 2017 budget deal to fund services that have seen drastic cuts during the impasse — but also includes reforms he says will boost the state’s economy.

Rauner on Friday said there’s a bipartisan effort underway to fund social services that he would support, describing it as similar to a stopgap measure passed last week to fund higher education.

And sources say there’s an effort underway to help fund public universities at the same level as Chicago State University, which received 60 percent of funding the appropriations bill, while the other universities got 31 percent.

If legislators fail to reach a budget when the regular session ends May 31, lawmakers would need to go into a special session, which Rauner has said he’d “seriously consider” personally financing.

Next week also marks the deadline for constitutional amendments to pass. Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, is pushing for a redistricting plan that would allow an independent commission to redraw legislative districts every 10 years after the census.

Rauner, whose Turnaround Agenda includes redistricting reform, supports a proposal by Fair Maps, a bipartisan coalition. But there’s still another version proposed by Independent Maps, a nonpartisan group of former elected officials and business leaders.

Education funding could also move back to the front burner.

Sen. Andy Manar, D- Bunker Hill, may see his education funding bill called for a vote as soon as Tuesday, according to sources. Manar’s bill offers a revamped formula that would ultimately shift money from wealthier districts to the poorer ones over a four-year phase-in.

Manar’s plan would cost about $600 million — an estimated $400 million in the first year to ensure school districts don’t initially lose money, as well as $200 million for the state to pay normal costs of Chicago teacher pensions.

Manar’s plan has no funding source, but some Downstate Republicans may support the bill because it’ll help their districts.

Lawmakers are also waiting on figures from the State Board of Education, which would spell out the formula for each district. They received information on the measure on Feb. 11.

Manar on Friday said the bill had undergone a healthy dose of constructive criticism and that he was ready for the Senate to take a vote.

But he said he’s also willing to support other education measures.

“The more the merrier. The more ideas that we put on the table, the better off we’re going to do,” Manar said. “I don’t view it as competition because we have to solve this problem. We’ll solve it one way or another, but we have to have more people engaged in the same process.”