Rauner, Republicans mark first Governor’s Day at state fair since 2002 – Chicago Tribune
Republicans celebrate their first Governor’s Day in more than a dozen years at the Illinois State Fair on Wednesday, but an ongoing political and budget impasse may provoke a sharp response from Democrats.
Wednesday is the deadline for the General Assembly to begin action to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a measure aimed at ensuring state workers won’t be locked out or go on strike over negotiations with the administration on a new contract to replace the one that expired July 1.
The measure, backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, would require binding arbitration if an impasse is reached during the current talks. Rauner has called the bill “one of the worst pieces of legislation in Illinois history.”
On Tuesday, Rauner sent a letter to lawmakers asking them not to override him, arguing that doing so would lead to a tax hike because it would strip his ability to bargain with unions and give it to arbitrators who historically are more friendly to organized labor.
“It is a direct affront to Illinois taxpayers and to my ability to negotiate on their behalf,” Rauner wrote.
Later, the governor made a rare visit to the Capitol press room to reiterate his point, telling reporters he believes the legislation is unconstitutional. Still, he said he had no interest in taking the matter to court.
“We’re just trying to persuade the legislature; please just let me do my job,” Rauner said.
The governor sloughed off the symbolism of Democrats orchestrating the vote on a day that’s supposed to be somewhat of a victory lap for Republicans. “It’s all good. It’s all part of politics,” Rauner said.
Democratic Senate President John Cullerton has said he has the votes to override Rauner’s veto when the chamber convenes Wednesday. That would send the bill to the House, which returns next week. Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan also has pledged he has the votes to override Rauner’s veto, though it’s expected to be an extremely tough roll call.
Governor’s Day at the fair comes amid a recent history of the state’s showcase agricultural event becoming a display of union power.
Rauner has included union-weakening demands in a variety of legislation, including a state budget, pensions and a bailout for Chicago Public Schools. The governor also has suggested that approval of the anti-union agenda is a prerequisite for his support for more state revenue to balance the budget.
On Governor’s Day three years ago, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn was booed off the stage at the fair director’s lawn and chased around the fairgrounds by public union members angry over his push to cut their pension benefits. The rancor prompted Democrats to avoid the fairgrounds the last two years.
It’s unclear what public employee unions may have planned Wednesday for Rauner’s day. But the Republican governor’s push to weaken collective bargaining rights for teachers and other government workers has become the most significant political issue in Illinois, with legislative candidate signature gathering for the 2016 elections set to begin next month.
Rauner has promised to use his wealth and assistance from his allies to help bankroll Republican candidates who support what he calls his “Turnaround Agenda” against Democratic incumbents and reluctant Republican officeholders.
One prominent Republican who’s skipping the fair festivities is first-term U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who is viewed as one of the top targets for Democrats nationally next year as the party looks to win back President Barack Obama’s former seat. A campaign spokesman said late Tuesday that Kirk has Iran briefings in Chicago on Wednesday.
In addition, Illinois will hold a special statewide election next year for comptroller. Democrats created the election after incumbent Republican Judy Baar Topinka won a new term but died before inauguration. Rauner appointed Leslie Munger to fill the post, and she is running to finish the rest of the term.
As Republicans spend the day making speeches and attending nearby fundraisers, Senate Democrats will be at the statehouse, poised to push through a measure to free up $373 million to pay for scholarship grants for low-income students.
As the budget impasse continues, as much as 90 percent of programs have been funded through a patchwork of laws and court orders. Money for state universities and the scholarships remains tied up, however.
Some schools have said they can pick up the scholarship costs for a short period, but students may be on the hook for the expense if the state doesn’t reimburse universities.
Rauner said Tuesday that he opposes such stopgap measures because it puts Illinois on the path to spend more money than it’s taking in.
“We’ve got to be careful not to create a $4 billion deficit, budget hole, one bill at a time and one court decree at a time. I really don’t support that,” Rauner said.
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