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Rauner to break silence on Senate plan during budget address

Gov. Bruce Rauner met with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board and reporters Friday afternoon, Feb. 10, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner — who has remained mum publicly about the Senate leaders’ “grand bargain” plan — will break his silence about which measures of the 12-bill package he supports in his budget address next week.

Earlier this week, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, along with several Democratic senators, had urged the governor to discuss what aspects of the plan he supports. The governor for weeks has said he’s “heartened” by the progress of the leaders, but wouldn’t comment on the plan’s specifics. The fear is that his input will blow up a delicate deal that’s already seen some failure.

It’s the only budget deal in town and one with several so-called contentious bills attached, such as workers’ compensation reform, pension reform and a revenue bill that aims to hike the income tax rate to 4.99 percent. And it came into shape between the Senate leaders after talks between Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan fell apart in December.

The governor has long said he’d only sign off on a tax increase if it included a plan to enact some of his preferred reforms, which includes term limits, a property tax freeze, workers’ compensation reform and changes to state retirement plans. But the speaker has said those shouldn’t be dealt with in a budget.

“If there’s any risk of my weighing in being too hard or specific or something that could be used as a reason. ‘Oh the governor said this wasn’t good so the whole deal is off.’ I don’t want to do that,” Rauner told the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Friday. “But that said, it may make some sense for me to give some thoughts on some parameters that would hopefully be helpful to try to move a deal.”

Asked to elaborate on what type of “parameters” he’d provide, Rauner said he may make references to measures he supports in the plan in his budget address.

Rauner will deliver his third budget address on Wednesday. He has said he’ll offer up a similar budget proposal as last year, when he gave the General Assembly two options: work with him on getting a balanced budget or give him the power to make his own cuts.

On Friday, the governor said he’d also offer up “very clear specifics.”

“I will be very clear about what we should do,” Rauner said of his budget address.

As for the Senate leaders’ effort, Rauner’s administration on Friday confirmed the governor will “provide principles he supports” during his budget address. Still, aides noted he will be careful not to disrupt the ongoing talks.

The Senate on Wednesday began voting on some of the package’s 12 bills. While procurement reform, local government consolidation and a “special purposes entities” bill were approved — solely with Democratic support, a pension reform bill fell flat. Republicans voted either against it or “present.”

On the Senate floor, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said the pension reform vote came “sort of out of the blue,” and said it wasn’t ready to be voted on. Republicans are hoping to keep negotiating on the measure.

Cullerton later told reporters Rauner’s support of the package would help Republicans feel more comfortable voting for some of the most controversial of the bills.

“He would certainly, I would think, help her get some more votes for the package so that she wouldn’t have so many people voting present,” the North Side Democrat said.

Asked about the governor weighing in on the Senate plan during his budget address next week, Cullerton spokesman John Patterson on Friday said the Senate president’s office “looks forward to hearing the governor’s plan.”