- Associated Press - Thursday, May 21, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner plans to introduce legislation Friday to advance a scaled-back version of the pro-business agenda he’s been pushing across Illinois for months, setting up another potential showdown with Democrats who’ve criticized him for not putting his priorities in writing as the end of session nears.

Among the measures are bills to impose term limits for state lawmakers, freeze property taxes and make workers’ compensation insurance less costly for employers, according to documents provided to The Associated Press. The Republican also wants to make it tougher for people to file lawsuits against businesses and is backing legislation introduced earlier this year to allow municipalities to file bankruptcy.

Not included in the stack of new bills is legislation to create right-to-work zones where union membership would be voluntary - a proposal that has drawn heavy protests from organized labor and that House lawmakers soundly defeated during a symbolic vote last week.

But the legislation will include measures to allow some local governments to opt out of collective bargaining with public-employee unions and prevailing wage agreements, which set a minimum level of salary and benefits for work on government projects. Rauner has said the agreements drive up the cost of public construction projects.

A spokesman for Rauner declined to comment on the proposals Thursday. But Rep. Ed Sullivan, a member of House Republican leadership, said the package represents Rauner’s attempts to compromise with Democrats who control the Legislature following weeks of closed-door, bipartisan meetings.

“He’s gone away from the more problematic issues and concentrated on how we grow our economy,” Sullivan said. “I think he’s got a good agenda. And hopefully they’ll get a good discussion and not get bottled up in committee.”

Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both chambers, said they would review the bills, but offered no guarantees they would advance.

They’ve been in a standoff with Rauner over how to close a $6 billion deficit in next year’s budget. Democrats want Rauner to approve some kind of tax increase to help balance the budget without billions in cuts to programs such as Medicaid, education and social services. But Rauner has said he won’t consider a tax hike until Democrats give him some of his legislative priorities - measures Democrats have criticized as harmful to working people.

“There is still time to work with the Governor on some of his initiatives. But the budget process should not be held hostage to an agenda to maximize profits for corporations at the expense of the middle class,” said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said Rauner was trying to deflect attention from a series of votes Madigan held specifically so the governor’s proposals could be shot down.

“It’s another effort to change the conversation from the week of embarrassment they’ve suffered,” he said.

Several of Rauner’s proposals have been tweaked since he originally began promoting them. For example, Rauner initially wanted counties to be able to create zones where all governments would opt out of collective bargaining. The revised proposal would allow individual governments or school districts to exclude some topics from collective bargaining, but wouldn’t impose the change on the entire county.

Rauner’s bills are being introduced just after Democrats on Thursday said they were working to pass a new state budget independently of the GOP.

Cullerton said the budget is still taking shape and it’s unclear when Democrats will present it. He said Rauner left them no choice because he presented a budget that wasn’t balanced, a move that comes on the heels of Democrats’ passage of their own unbalanced plan last year.

“Somebody’s got to go forward with a budget so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Cullerton said.

Rauner has proposed a $31.5 billion budget that fills a roughly $6 billion revenue gap by slashing spending.

House appropriations chairs said the budget being crafted by Democrats reduces spending, but cuts less than Rauner’s proposal, which they said was an attempt to protect the most vulnerable. What’s missing from Democrats’ proposal is a way to afford reducing the cuts Rauner proposed.

Democrats could send Rauner a budget without any Republican votes, forcing him veto the entire budget, use his authority to cut specific spending items or sign the measure into law.

Rauner said Thursday that he plans to stand firm in his pledge to refuse tax increases without pro-businesses reform, publishing an opinion column in The (Springfield) State Journal Register saying lawmakers should “expect a very long extra session” if they don’t approve some of his priorities.


Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/kerrylester

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