Morning Spin: Gov. Bruce Rauner dangles capital bill for billions in road, bridge, other projects — after the election

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Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Wednesday that $20 million in grants will be made available for Chicago-area rail and government bus projects as part of the nationwide settlement from Volkswagen over misleading emission detection devices.

The Republican governor said the grants are not a substitute for a comprehensive state infrastructure measure. But, he said, funding such a package was dependent upon “structural changes” in the economy that have routinely found him at odds with Democratic lawmakers over his pro-business, union-weakening agenda.

The grants, the initial portion of $108 million in funding over 10 years to include programs for the rest of the state, are aimed at removing dirty diesel engines from service and include those on Metra commuter rail lines. Agencies and communities must apply for the grant dollars.

Such funding however, pales in comparison with a capital maintenance backlog of nearly $20 billion for Chicago-area transit agencies, according to the Regional Transportation Authority. In addition, Rauner’s proposed budget estimated another $7.4 billion in deferred maintenance of state property. And there are billions of dollars more needed for road, bridge and waterway construction and repair.

Illinois’ last capital program took effect a decade ago. From his first days as a candidate, Rauner has repeatedly talked of the need for a new program, including making it a point to Downstate audiences where road and bridge funding are prominently sought by regional politicians.

On Wednesday, Rauner dangled the potential of a capital bill after the Nov. 6 election, though he declined to say what funding sources would be used to finance bonds to enact a massive infrastructure plan.

“I hope and believe that shortly after the election in November, we will come together. I’ve had some indications from members of the General Assembly that we’ll all come together and get done promptly a large capital bill,” Rauner said at Union Station, the site of recent problems involving Metra delays to suburban commuters.

Rauner acknowledged the “need to significantly increase” transportation infrastructure investment” and said the state is “hurting our economic competitiveness, our job creation and our economic growth” because it has been “behind for many, many years.”

But Rauner continued to back public-private partnerships to help fund capital projects.

As for new revenue to finance a capital program, Rauner said the state should “make the structural changes in our economy so we’re growing more, reduce the regulatory burden on our businesses, reduce the … income tax burden on our businesses, so that we can bring more businesses here, grow our tax base.” As a result, Rauner said, “We will have more than enough revenue to fund a large capital program.”

But those “structural changes” also have included Rauner’s push to eliminate a requirement that prevailing regional union wages be paid to construction workers on public projects, and other efforts to weaken private and public sector collective bargaining.

Such concepts are anathema to Democrats, who hold majorities in the Illinois House and Senate and count on organized labor as a core partisan constituency. (Rick Pearson)

By: Chicago Tribune staff

Article Photo: Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to the media after signing a bill that would allow patients who normally would be prescribed opioids for pain to instead be allowed to use medical marijuana in Chicago on Aug. 28, 2018. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

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