CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner told Chicago aldermen Wednesday that Illinois can’t “bail out” the nation’s third-largest city, and urged cooperation addressing the looming financial challenges during an unprecedented speech by a sitting governor to the City Council.
In a roughly 10-minute speech, the new Republican governor gave dueling takes on the relationship between the state and Chicago, both of which are facing severe budget problems. He said Chicago should have local control on such issues as a potential casino but also told the Democratic body the top suggestion he hears from downstate Illinois residents on improving the state is to secede from Chicago.
“I am eager to go to bat for the 2.7 million people of Chicago, but you must remember there are over 10 million people who live outside the city limits,” Rauner said. “Illinois as a state is in a terrible financial crisis. We don’t have the money to simply bail out the city of Chicago. It’s not an option.”
Rauner has been traveling statewide to promote an agenda that includes funding cuts and restricting union influence. Many municipalities have embraced it, passing resolutions in support. But that hasn’t been the case in labor-friendly Chicago. Moments before Rauner spoke, alderman and Mayor Rahm Emanuel used a resolution to oppose Rauner’s push to create “right to work zones” where union membership is voluntary. Workers in the audience applauded heartily.
“It is the wrong strategy,” Emanuel told the crowd.
The Democrat, who won a second term last month, will need help from Springfield when it comes to getting approval for a revenue-generating casino or further attempts at pension reform. Emanuel applauded Rauner’s request to speak and said he was the first sitting Illinois governor to make such an appearance. He deemed it a sign of cooperation for the coming weeks as lawmakers try to craft a state budget by May 31.
Rauner’s office didn’t offer many clues about what prompted the visit, and the governor shied away from offering details. But the speech offered glimpses of how Illinois’ first Republican governor in over a decade — one who doesn’t live full time in Chicago like his two predecessors — would deal with the city. Rauner will need support from Democrats, who run the House and Senate, to sign off on his policies. Chicago lawmakers could help, even if it’s to prevent active lobbying against his ideas. Such a speech before Democrats could also help him blunt partisan criticism.
Rauner reiterated parts of his stump speech, that years of overspending and borrowing had led the city and state to a critical point where tough decisions are needed. Rauner has called for deep cuts, including to local governments’ share of the income tax.
He did acknowledge his agenda wouldn’t be popular with all Chicagoans, joking that his stop in Democratic territory was like the biblical scene of Daniel entering the lion’s den, except Daniel “had much better odds.”
“I’m eager to be your partner in a turnaround that benefits both Chicago and our great state,” he said. “But to achieve that, we must be willing to work together. Compromise. Accept things we might normally oppose. That’s going to be required of all of us. For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs.”
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