Rahm wins big over Rauner in police and fire pension bill fight
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SPRINGFIELD — Just days after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Gov. Bruce Rauner told Chicago taxpayers to “take a hike,” Democrats delivered the same message to the governor.
In a stunning move, the Illinois House on Monday voted 72-43 to override Rauner’s veto of the Chicago police and fire pension bill that had sparked a war of words between the Republican governor and Emanuel. The action came just hours after the Illinois Senate voted 39-19 to override the bill. It will now become law.
The votes mark a significant defeat for Rauner and a big win for Emanuel, whose own top aides had acknowledged last week that overriding the veto in the House was going to be a tough battle. When it first passed, the pension bill received 66 votes in the House, five short needed for an override.
Rauner blasted the bill, which defers city payments to the pension funds, as financially irresponsible by merely kicking the can down the road. Emanuel said Rauner’s veto, if sustained, would have meant a $300 million property tax hike for city property owners, which Emanuel quickly dubbed the “Rauner Tax.”
Never was rhetoric more heated over a political dispute between the two men, once considered good friends.
The bill passed in the House with the help of two Republicans who changed their votes from last year, an exceptionally unusual move in the often bitter Springfield political environment: Rep. David Harris, from Arlington Heights, and Rep. David McSweeney, from Barrington Hills.
On the House floor, Harris gave Emanuel credit for initiating a $500 million tax increase to pay pensions for the city’s police and firefighters.
“The city is down right now. It’s taking its lumps . . . I don’t like to kick someone when they’re down,” Harris said. “I recognize that the idea of stretching out these payments is not good public policy. It isn’t.
“But it’s not an uncommon practice. It’s done with debt restructuring all the time for bondholders. And it’s a reasonable action to take,” Harris said, noting the bill costs the state no money and has no impact on Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.”
“It’s tough to vote against one’s governor, and I don’t like doing it. But I think if you disagree as I do, with the governor, and I understand where he’s coming from, but I respectfully disagree with his position on this bill.”
McSweeney said he voted yes because he won’t support a property tax increase.
“I’m opposed to all property tax increases throughout the state,” McSweeney said.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said the two Republican votes to override the veto surprised him.
After the override, Rauner said in a statement: “It’s unfortunate that the legislature voted again to allow the City of Chicago to borrow $843 million at an interest rate of 7.75% from their pensions, putting an additional $18.6 billion on the backs of taxpayers. Clearly, those who supported this measure haven’t recognized what happens when governments fail to promptly fund pension obligations. Instead of kicking the can down the road, local and state governments should instead focus on reforms that will grow our economy, create jobs and enable us live up to the promises we’ve made to police and firefighters.”
Emanuel, who worked the phones aggressively to lobby for the override Monday, said in a statement after the victory: “On Memorial Day I particularly want to thank the Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly for putting politics aside and doing the right thing for Chicago taxpayers, and for our first responders.”
Earlier in the day, the Senate floor, Senate President John Cullerton called the bill “a negotiated settlement” and “very responsible.”
On Friday, Rauner had vetoed the bill that gives Chicago more time to bring its police and fire pension systems up to full funding. The bill covers contributions to the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund and the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund.
The bill was approved by the House and Senate more than a year ago but wasn’t sent to Rauner until late March because Cullerton had been holding the bill amid concerns Rauner would veto the legislation to squeeze cash-strapped Chicago and strengthen his own hand in the budget stalemate over the governor’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms. The Sun-Times reported last month that Cullerton, Emanuel’s closest ally in Springfield, had ended 10 months of cat-and-mouse by sending the legislation to the governor.
Shortly after the veto, House Speaker Madigan and Cullerton walked to Rauner’s office for a leaders meeting. After the meeting, Madigan told reporters he thought it was “interesting” the governor “had nothing to stay about the override.”
“I was raised not to cause embarrassment for people so I didn’t raise it,” Madigan said.
Contributing: Fran Spielman