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Rauner: Democrats leading a ‘coordinated activity’ to ‘create a crisis’ in Illinois

Illinois+Gov.+Bruce+Rauner+speaks+at+the+Illinois+State+Fair+in+Springfield%2C+Ill.%2C+on+August+17%2C+2016.+%28Anthony+Souffle+%7C+Chicago+Tribune+%7C+TNS%29
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill., on August 17, 2016. (Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune | TNS)

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill., on August 17, 2016. (Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune | TNS)

Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune

Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill., on August 17, 2016. (Anthony Souffle | Chicago Tribune | TNS)

By Monique Garcia | Chicago Tribune

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday accused some of the state’s top Democrats of orchestrating a “coordinated activity” to shut down state government, an idea called “delusional babble” by an aide to his top political nemesis.

Rauner’s comments came one day after his administration lost a court challenge to Comptroller Susana Mendoza over which state fund should be used to pay about 600 employees. The same day, Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the Illinois Supreme Court to stop workers’ paychecks in the absence of a state budget. A judge in southwestern Illinois ruled against Madigan in that case last month.

The governor contended those actions by the Democratic officeholders are a united effort to bring havoc to state government and ultimately push a tax hike to balance the budget. As Rauner often does, he blamed Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, the attorney general’s father, for pulling the strings.

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“This is clearly part of a coordinated activity, coordinated pattern between the attorney general, our comptroller and, frankly, our speaker, who coordinates it all, to create a crisis and shut down state government,” Rauner said Wednesday.

A spokesman for speaker Madigan dismissed the governor’s comments of a Democratic conspiracy, contending Rauner frequently makes accusations without providing any evidence.

“It’s the sort of delusional babble that we hear more and more from him as the governor becomes more and more desperate,” spokesman Steve Brown said.

The governor’s administration went to court this week after Mendoza moved to pay roughly 600 employees out of specialized funds set aside for garage and facilities maintenance instead of the state’s general checking account. Rauner opposed that change because his office had been using those funds to pay for day-to-day operations during the state’s record-breaking budget impasse. His office argued that paying employees out of those funds would drain them and “jeopardize the state’s ability to maintain government operations.”

Late Tuesday, St. Clair County Judge Robert LeChien ruled in favor of Mendoza, saying “it is not unreasonable nor an abuse of discretion” for the comptroller to tap into the funds to pay employees. Mendoza said in a statement that she hoped Rauner would take his loss in court “as a teachable moment.”

“Instead of trying to sabotage perceived rivals and waste taxpayers’ money, he should focus on the one and only way out of Illinois’ financial crisis: A balanced budget,” Mendoza said.

Rauner said Wednesday he disagreed with the ruling but will “honor it,” saying “our state judges are sometimes part of the problem.” The governor declined to elaborate on his criticism of the judiciary, saying that topic should be saved “for another day.”

LeChien is the same judge who sided with Rauner last month after the attorney general argued that state employees should no longer be paid because Rauner and lawmakers have failed to agree on a budget that gives the comptroller the legal authority to cut paychecks.

The attorney general contended that her legal moves could put pressure on Rauner and lawmakers to strike an agreement. LeChien rejected that argument, saying he didn’t want to create a game of chicken with state workers caught in the middle.

Attorney General Madigan on Wednesday asked the Illinois Supreme Court to take up the issue directly, which Rauner called an “end run” around the appellate court.

The attorney general’s office said it was trying to expedite the process by going directly to the state’s top court.

“There is no legal basis for the St. Clair County order, and it has allowed the governor and the legislature to continue to avoid the difficult decisions required of them to enact a budget,” spokeswoman Maura Possley said in a statement. “As a result, serious and irreparable damage has been done to the state and its universities, students, social service providers, nonprofit organizations and companies that provide goods and services to the state.”

Asked Wednesday why he was fighting to ensure state workers get paid during the budget impasse but not on behalf of social service providers who’ve also sued after going months without pay, Rauner said there’s “a difference” between those who work inside government and those paid by the state via contracts.

“Inside government, the folks are working every day,” Rauner said. “There’s a difference between being inside government and being outside government.”

Earlier Wednesday before the governor made his comments, the Illinois Republican Party that’s funded largely by Rauner tried to push the notion that the attorney general and Speaker Madigan were in cahoots. The GOP released a 15-second ad declaring the attorney general wanted to “cut off pay to state employees” and “shut down government” to help her father force higher taxes and “protect their power.”

“Lisa Madigan, family first, Illinois last,” the ad says.

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(c)2017 the Chicago Tribune

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