Cullerton: I was Rauner’s excuse

As Senate

President John Cullerton sees it, Gov. Bruce Rauner “needed an

excuse” to veto a bill last week that would’ve given the Chicago Public

Schools $215 million for its June 30 pension payment. And Cullerton believes he

turned out to be that excuse.

There’s

little doubt that Rauner was likely to veto the proposal, which passed in June

with Rauner’s support contingent upon a pension reform agreement by early

January. Rauner’s office was already privately threatening to veto it as part

of the ever-escalating war over a “stopgap” budget with Illinois

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. And, frankly, one of the biggest reasons why

the neo-liberal education reformer ran for governor in the first place was his

view that the Chicago Teachers Union had “won” its 2011 strike and

needed to be severely reined in or even broken. “Starve the beast” to

force teacher layoffs would be one way to hobble that union.

Not to

mention that the governor and his top people have been convinced for months

that Speaker Madigan wouldn’t ever come to terms on a pension reform deal. A

proposal backed by Mayor Emanuel to make changes to the pension laws for

non-educator employees at the Chicago Public Schools system is opposed by the

CTU, and Madigan and that union have become super-tight since Rauner’s inauguration

– and the relationship only strengthened when CTU backed Madigan during his

primary campaign earlier this year.

It also

probably didn’t help matters much when Cullerton suggested to Rauner during a

leaders meeting earlier this week that it would be a whole lot easier to pass a

pension reform bill if the governor reached a contract agreement with AFSCME.

Gov. Rauner, who has often referred to the state employee union as

“AF-Scammy” and said during his campaign that he might have to “take

a strike” to bring the union to heel, told Cullerton in no uncertain terms

that the two issues were not connected and would not be connected. This from

the same guy who wants to connect term limits to passing a budget.

And then

after last Thursday’s leaders meeting at the Statehouse, Cullerton was asked

about the timeline of the pension reform negotiations so that CPS could get its

$215 million. “You’re talking about two different bills,” Cullerton

said. “We haven’t talked about putting those two things together at this

point in time.” Reporters followed up, saying they thought there was a

deal tying the two topics together. Cullerton said that was the governor’s

plan. Rauner, he said, had declared he wouldn’t sign the CPS bill without a

pension agreement, but that the Democratic leaders had always reserved the

right to override if that didn’t happen.

The

governor’s people only heard Cullerton say there was no deal. They claimed he

was deliberately blowing things up and were furious about it. The governor’s

veto of the CPS legislation soon emerged: “Breaking our agreement

undermines our effort to end the budget impasse and enact reforms with

bipartisan support,” Rauner wrote in his veto message.

The move

took Cullerton by surprise. He agreed during a chat with me later in the day

that he’d put a parliamentary hold on the bill in June in order to “buy

time to negotiate the pension reform.” But he denied that he’d broken any

agreement. “Pension reform was the price for signing the bill,” he

admitted, but “I was always reserving the right to try to override” a

CPS funding veto if that deal couldn’t be done.

“They

misunderstood what I said and they should’ve called and asked me and I would’ve

gone back out and clarified it,” Cullerton insisted. “They just

vetoed the bill.” That failure to reach out to him convinced Cullerton

that Rauner was simply looking for any excuse to kill the CPS bill.

Cullerton

insisted that he was serious about trying to negotiate a pension reform deal.

“I’m the only one pushing the pension reform stuff. He hasn’t actually

worked on passing any bills,” Cullerton said of Rauner.

Cullerton

didn’t deny that he’d brought up settling the AFSCME contract with Rauner, but

said it was a “logical” step to take to find the necessary votes to

pass a pension reform bill. Plenty of Republican legislators, after all, have

state employees in their districts. “You don’t just go out there and pass

a bill,” he said, adding, “They don’t know how to pass a bill.”

They do know

how to veto one, though.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

CapitolFax.com.

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