Rauner says shutdown worth pain if it brings change

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Gov. Bruce Rauner | AP file

SPRINGFIELD — A budget standoff that could interrupt some state services beginning Wednesday is worth the pain if it yields fundamental business and political changes in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner says.

Turning the Democrats’ phrase of his reform proposals against them, the Republican governor said Tuesday the initiatives he continues to insist upon are “extreme common sense.”

The new Republican governor made the rounds at state agencies Tuesday to speak to employees as he and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly girded for the new fiscal year amid continuing disagreement on how to fund state operations.

Lawmakers were in session Tuesday. The House planned to take testimony from 15 key state agencies on how they plan to weather a “shutdown” with no budget deal, but had retired to private party caucus meetings early in the afternoon.

Democrats want to find the revenue necessary to cover what they say are vital operations, while Rauner first demands rule-changes in liability lawsuits and worker-injury compensation, along with term limits for politicians and an impartial method for drawing political district lines.

The Legislature sent him a $36 billion spending plan that Democrats acknowledged was up to $4 billion out of balance, but argued Rauner could reduce spending in areas he saw fit to keep government moving ahead while talks continue. The governor vetoed the bulk of that plan last week.

To Rauner, who’s in the midst of his first state budget battle, the changes are essential to producing more tax revenue and keeping spending in check. To Democrats, they’re “extreme.”

“They’re extreme common sense,” Rauner told reporters after talking to Illinois Emergency Management Agency employees. He repeated his Monday promise to see that workers get paid even without agreement on a spending plan, a scenario the Democratic attorney general later said lacked legal precedent.

“What is extreme in Illinois is our property tax burden, what is extreme is our deficit and our debt, what is extreme is our low economic growth, our low rate of job creation and our high rate of conflicts of interest inside government,” he said.

If Wednesday comes without a budget, there is money enough to pay 65,000 state employees through mid-July.

And a letter obtained by The Associated Press indicates they might be paid even longer. In the letter, Rauner’s personnel agency indicates that it has concluded Rauner should continue paying state employees full wages during a budget impasse.

The letter from attorney Michael Basil of the Department of Central Management Services says that the same complex federal rule that allowed the state to make full payroll during a 2007 standoff creates the same situation today.

Rauner has pledged to meet payroll even if his stalemate with legislative Democrats continues through July. But on Monday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, had said the 2007 court ruling did not set a precedent.

Basil’s letter to a top Rauner lawyer indicates the same scenario applies. It would take so long to determine federally required base payments that officials should pay the full bill.

Regardless of whether, or how, or for how long, state employees are paid, it’s likely some services provided by government contractors will begin shutting down or stop because payments will cease.

Rauner dismissed the idea that the anticipated confusion and commotion surrounding a shutdown could cause more harm.

“We need structural reform and see, change is hard,” Rauner said. “But we need to have change. If all we’re going to do is keep the status quo, and if all we do is raise taxes to cover up the status quo, we’ll continue in our long-term slow decline and the people of Illinois deserve better than that.”

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