Rauner’s secret, legislative ‘working groups’

 I recently obtained a document distributed by the governor’s office detailing the membership list and meeting times and locations of the secret state legislative “working groups.”

The governor’s office has insisted that not only should legislators dummy up about what goes on at the groups’ meetings – which are designed to forge compromises on the governor’s “Turnaround Agenda” – but also that outsiders should not even know the membership of the groups or when and where they’re getting together.

That’s pretty ridiculous, if you ask me. So, I exerted a bit of effort and eventually scored the governor’s document.

The working group tasked with hammering out a potential tax hike is so secret that its very existence would not be confirmed by members I contacted. Legislators were reportedly warned by the governor’s office that if any word leaked about the group then Gov. Bruce Rauner would refuse to increase taxes.

The group was nicknamed “Vegas” by some of its members because what happens in the group is supposed to stay in the group. It’s official name is listed as “HOLD” on the governor’s document. It’s apparently not an acronym. “They were that afraid to put things in writing,” explained one source. “So just ‘hold’ this slot open.”

Republican state Reps. Patricia Bellock and David Leitch are on the HOLD group, as well as Democratic Rep. John Bradley. Senate Democrats Heather Steans and Toi Hutchinson are also on the super secret group, as are Republican Sens. Pam Althoff and Karen McConnaughay. The governor’s top staff abruptly shut down a HOLD meeting last week, calling House Speaker Michael Madigan’s unilateral advancement of a budget bill a “hostile action.”

The “Economic Growth” working group will tackle issues like workers’ compensation insurance, the governor’s local “right to work zones” proposal, tort reform and the minimum wage. Democratic Reps. Jay Hoffman and Art Turner; Republican Reps. Mike Tryon, David Leitch and Dwight Kay; Democratic Sens. Kimberly Lightford and Kwame Raoul; and Republican Sens. Matt Murphy and Jim Oberweis are on the group. Some initial progress is being made on workers’ comp reform, I’m told.

The “Taxpayer Protection” working group discusses issues like the governor’s proposed property tax freeze. Members were told that the governor’s initial bargaining position is a permanent freeze. Democratic Senators Gary Forby and Andy Manar are on the working group, as well as Republican Sens. Dan Duffy and Chris Nybo. Democratic Reps. John Bradley and Barbara Flynn Currie and GOP Reps. David Harris and Ed Sullivan are also on the working group.

I wrote recently about the “Transforming Government” group, which featured the Democratic throw down with the governor’s staff over a legislative term limits constitutional amendment. It’s also dealing with implementing the governor’s executive order on state worker ethics and banning public employee union contributions to the executive branch. Democratic Reps. Lou Lang and Elgie Sims, Republican Reps. Norine Hammond and Chad Hays, Democratic Sen. Don Harmon, and Republican Sens. Darin LaHood and Chapin Rose are all on the committee.

The governor wants to move current state employees and teachers out of their “Tier 1” pension plans and into a “Tier 2” plan that provides far fewer benefits. His “Pension Reform” working group is comprised of Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, Senate Democrat Daniel Biss, and HGOPs Tom Morrison and Ron Sandack, along with SGOPs Bill Brady and Pam Althoff.

Gov. Rauner has been promising a major road and transit construction plan since the campaign. The “Capital Plan” working group is comprised of SDems John Sullivan and Marty Sandoval, SGOPs Dave Syverson and Karen McConnaughay, HDems Bob Rita and Christian Mitchell and HGOPs Norine Hammond and Ed Sullivan. They didn’t get much done at their last meeting because the governor refused to talk about how to pay for it.

The “Budget Implementation” working group is huge. The last meeting was attended by 38 people, including all legislative appropriations committee chairs. Getting things accomplished with a group that size could be difficult.

The “Unemployment Insurance” working group will use an “agreed bill” process to find a way to bring down employer costs. Republican Sens. Sue Rezin and Kyle McCarter are serving on the group, as is Democratic Sen. Terry Link and Democratic Rep. Jay Hoffman, along with House Republicans John Anthony and Dwight Kay.

OK, can we stop with all the crazy secrecy now, please?

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

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