Governor Bruce Rauner pitches his turnaround agenda to Chicago City Council

(Chicago) Gov. Bruce Rauner told the City Council on Wednesday he is “eager to be your partner in a turnaround that benefits Chicago and the state,” but only if Mayor Rahm Emanuel and  aldermen “accept things they might normally oppose.”

“For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs,” the governor said. “We don’t have the money to simply bail out Chicago. That’s not an option.”

The rookie governor never mentioned the right-to-work zones that aldermen and the mayor denounced from the Council floor minutes before his arrival, the Sun-Times is reporting.

Nor did he mention the rest of a turnaround agenda that includes reforming workers’ compensation, freezing local property taxes, minimizing the formidable influence of labor unions and scrapping prevailing wages.

But, that was clearly what he was talking about in broad strokes during a 10-minute address that was greeted with a polite, but frosty round of applause.

“I was born in Chicago in the shadows of Wrigley Field. I love this city. I want this to be the greatest city in the world for every family and every neighborhood,” the governor said.

“But the city, like the state, is at a tipping point. We can’t continue governing from crisis to crisis bandaging over problems while we slowly slide down the scale of great cities. That’s not the future I want.”

Listen to WLS’ Poltical Reporter Bill Cameron’s report hereBILL-RAUNER SPEAKS TO CC.

Emanuel was more than willing to oblige Rauner’s extraordinary City Council address. He desperately needs Rauner’s help to solve the combined, $300 million pension crisis at the city and public schools.

The mayor wants an elusive, publicly owned Chicago casino, with all of the revenue used to shore up police and fire pensions.

He wants to resurrect his 2011 proposal to broaden the sales tax to an array of services not now covered, an idea Rauner has also championed.

And he wants the governor and Democratic-controlled General Assembly to lift the hammer hanging over Chicago taxpayers—a state-mandated, $550 million payment due in December to shore up police and fire pensions—and give taxpayers more time to “ramp up” to that balloon payment.

To erase a $1.14 billion shortfall and $9.5 billion pension crisis at Chicago Public Schools, Emanuel has appealed to Rauner to end the pension double-standard that forces Chicago taxpayers to pay twice, for retired city teachers and for the pensions of retired teachers outside the city.

On Wednesday, Rauner made it clear that would be a heavy lift—not only for him, but also for the Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly and for the people they represent.

“There is talk of so-called double-taxation of Chicago residents for schools. But outside Chicago, folks see Chicago gettin’ its own special deal receiving over half-a-billion dollars every year in net extra funding compared to the rest of the state’s school districts,” Rauner said.

“These different points of view are a tremendous challenge for us to all overcome together. Chicago’s agenda does not and cannot stand alone from the agenda we need to bring back Illinois. To achieve what we must requires sacrifice and compromise from all of us.”

During a news conference after the first City Council address by a sitting governor in anyone’s memory, Emanuel stood his ground.

The mayor said it was inconsistent for the governor to want to tie Chicago’s hands by freezing local property taxes and, at the same time, continue taxing Chicagoans twice for teacher pensions. Something has to give.

Asked where he believes there is room to compromise with his friend, Emanuel specifically mentioned worker’s compensation “done the right way.” He noted that Chicago taxpayers spend $100 million-a-year on worker’s comp.

“Four years ago or around that time, I fought for worker’s comp reform. I believe in worker’s comp reform. I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it,” the mayor said.

“I know it’s important on his agenda. If we do it in the right way, I’ll work together to get that done because, as an employer, the largest in the state of Illinois, we have an interest in that type of reform. But, doing it the wrong way doesn’t mean it helps.”

After his address, Rauner told reporters the City Council’s denouncement of right-to-work zones was “terrific,” saying he hopes to encourage local communities to decide whether right-to-work is for them.

“That’s exactly what I’m encouraging and I can guarantee you there will be communities that don’t want empowerment zones within their communities and there are communities that do want empowerment zones and that is what I’m advocating,” Rauner said.

Rauner said he’s pushing “aggressively” to get his turnaround agenda and budget passed by May 31.

“It’s a heavy lift. It’s a lot of work but we are pushing it,” Rauner said. “I’ve seen how the process works in state government and it’s still very possible.”

— Chicago Sun-Times