Rauner has made the budget impasse his favorite campaign weapon | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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Rauner has made the budget impasse his favorite campaign weapon

No matter what Illinois Democrats do to dislodge the budget stalemate, the governor will blast them.

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As absurdist comedy goes, the Father's Day greeting I got from, of all people, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner was right up there with Better Call Saul, the AMC television show about a sleazy, con-artist lawyer.

Rauner's putting his inner Saul Goodman on display as he tries to convince voters that the budget impasse—for which he's primarily responsible—is actually the fault of the Democrats.

"The very future of our state is at stake," Rauner wrote in the e-mail. "This past week, I called a special session to bring the General Assembly together in Springfield to pass a balanced budget with real, lasting reforms."

The message—which included an appeal to donate to Citizens for Rauner, as though he needs more money—was signed "Bruce."

First of all, Bruce—don't act like you're my friend. Second of all—why are you bugging me? I'm the last guy who'd give you a dime. Sure, his campaign probably got my e-mail address from some mailing list it purchased with the millions Rauner's already got stashed in his war chest.

I give the governor credit for getting one thing right: On June 15, he called a special session of the legislature. But not to pass anything resembling "reform" or to sincerely bargain with the Democrats. C'mon, folks—we know he has no interest in that. Senate Republicans bargained for months with their Democratic counterparts for a budget that would include a property tax freeze, one of Rauner's so-called reforms. And then at the end of May, Rauner left the Democrats in the lurch, ordering his Republican senators to retreat from the deal. The deal passed the senate, but without any Republican votes, thus enabling Rauner to blast the Democrats for passing a deal he had wanted them to pass. I don't think even Saul would've been so audacious.

That senate-approved budget died in the house, where Rauner's arch rival, speaker Michael Madigan, reigns. Some Democratic legislators pressed Madigan to bring the budget for a vote, if only to put Rauner on the defensive and show the world that the Dems are more than a party of no. But Madigan didn't bring it for a vote for several reasons. It's unclear he had the votes to pass it. And even if Madigan had twisted enough legislative arms to pass the budget, Rauner probably would've charged that the speaker's willingness to use his power to "ram through multiple tax hikes outside a comprehensive jobs and reform package confirms that the entire Democratic Party's position is to raise taxes while protecting the status quo." Which is what a GOP press release said about the senate Democrats.

In short, if Madigan had advanced a tax hike, like the one in the senate, Rauner would've blasted every house member who voted for it. As well as every Democratic gubernatorial candidate, just for good measure.

No matter what the Democrats do, it seems, Rauner will blast them for doing it. Unless of course they totally capitulate to his demands for union-busting legislation that would eviscerate both the unions and the Democratic Party, as labor can be counted on to donate to the Dems.

So here's Madigan's choice: sign on to a suicide pact for his party, or let the governor pound him like a piñata.

And Rauner can afford to do plenty of pounding. The governor kicked $50 million into his own campaign back in December. Last month, his friend and ally, Ken Griffin, a hedge-fund operator who's the richest man in the state, kicked in another $20 million to Rauner. That's $70 million just sitting around ready to be used for commercials, press releases, and (apparently) Father's Day solicitations.

So what can we expect from Rauner's special session?

I doubt they'll pass a full budget. At best they'll come up with a stopgap measure. That's where both parties agree to authorize money for things like education, without passing a full budget.

Rauner likes stopgap measures. As I've mentioned before, the budget impasse hits hardest at social service providers who are not being paid to provide service for the aged, infirm, and indigent, people not likely to vote for Rauner in the first place. So he clearly doesn't care about them. But over the next few weeks the impact could spread unless the state passes some stopgap measures. Road construction projects may be halted. Or the state may not have enough money to pay its employees. Can you imagine how angry people will be if the motor vehicle facilities close?

Furthermore, state aid for public school may not be delivered in August. That might cause problems for Rauner. He does care about people like suburban parents of school-age kids—at least he wants their votes. As long as they're relatively unaffected by the impasse, Rauner's free to torpedo any deal even as the state slides toward bankruptcy.   v

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