Gov. Bruce Rauner marked his two-month anniversary as Illinois's 42nd chief executive last week by continuing his tirade against Big Labor.

According to accounts from Democratic lawmakers who met privately with the Republican businessman, the governor suggested that if his policies are adopted by the Legislature, union membership will be eliminated in Illinois within the next four years.

While Rauner has argued that he is not anti-union -- he called those claims "horse manure" during a stop in Elgin earlier this month -- he has spent much of his first 60 days in office attacking organized labor, whether during campaign-style speeches to lobby groups or via executive orders and lawsuits.

During last week's meeting with lawmakers, Rauner was told that he is wasting a lot of time and energy on an issue that likely isn't going to go anywhere. Democrats, after all, still control the General Assembly.

The man, they said, has bigger fish to fry.

"We ought to be talking more about the budget. Instead of traveling around, he ought to be meeting with people about the budget," said state Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, also was in the meeting when Rauner predicted the eventual eradication of union membership in Illinois. He also said Rauner needs to focus on the state's budget problems.

Both lawmakers said it was not surprising Rauner continues to focus on organized labor.

"Actions speak louder than words. His actions have indicated that he's not pro-union," Sullivan said. "I came away from the meeting believing that he believes in what he's saying."

Added Manar, "I wasn't surprised by that part of our discussion. He's been very blunt about this."

On the plus side, Manar said it is good that Rauner is spending time meeting with lawmakers.

"Those kinds of discussions are always positive, having face to face dialogue," Manar said.

Budget Talks

On Monday, a Senate appropriations committee met in Chicago to review the governor's spending proposal, which calls for massive cuts in order to deal with the reduction in revenue that occurred when the temporary income tax increase expired in January.

State Sen. Heather Steans said she was told Rauner's staff could not attend the session because they were in Springfield negotiating a solution for the current fiscal year budget.

Steans, D-Chicago, found that puzzling, since many of the people who would have been negotiating on behalf of the Senate Democrats were in Chicago.

Turns out, it was the second time the governor's budget office had failed to show up for a hearing.

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"We hope this isn't a pattern," Steans said.

University Pain

Rauner's proposal to cut state aid to universities by 31 percent is drawing bipartisan blowback, with Republicans and Democrats saying the reduction would harm their communities.

Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston, for example, would look to lay off 250 people if the cut became reality. That, said EIU President William Perry, would blow a big hole in the local economy at a time when Rauner is talking about growing the economy.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said Southern Illinois University would be ravaged by such a cut.

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"There’s no way that economic engine is going to survive. I mean it’s going to be devastated," Phelps said.

New Office

Newly appointed state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, is in the early stages of decorating his office after being sworn in earlier this month to fill the post vacated by Rich Brauer, who went to work for the Rauner administration.

Among the treasures the 47-year-old former congressional staffer brought into his new digs is a skateboard.

He told me he would definitely wear a helmet if he decides to ride it in the tunnels linking the capitol complex buildings.

Cutting Cities

Lawmakers are hearing a lot of howling from local government officials about a proposal by Rauner to divert income tax money from cities to help plug the state's big budget hole.

Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said his community would have to cut services.

"Do we cut out snowplowing of streets?" Craig asked.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said freezing property taxes and tapping local government funds would hurt the south suburbs of Chicago at a time when much of the region remains mired in economic malaise.

"When the state gets a cold, we get pneumonia," said state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields.

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Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043.


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