Rahm, Rauner share stage, but not school funding solutions

on May11

11 May 2017 | 9:49 pm

Despite being at war politically, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared a stage and a few pleasantries at a Southeast Side factory opening on Thursday, but it was far from a truce — or even a ceasefire.

Rauner used the rare joint appearance to accuse the mayor of not using enough of his “influence” on Democrats to push for a school funding formula change, blaming the mayor for the lack of progress.

They were once close friends, vacation buddies and business associates, but neither man would confirm when they’d last spoken or met about the Chicago Public Schools funding.

They appeared together Thursday at the opening of Flex-N-Gate, a manufacturing company that promises to create 286 jobs and invest nearly $30 million investment in the local economy.

The two shared a handshake. Then Emanuel asked Rauner about his family. The men were seated apart on stage at the unveiling and spoke separately to reporters afterward.

The state hasn’t had a full budget since July 2015. And the mayor’s office this week said CPS needs $596 million to keep schools open the rest of the school year.

“I’m very strong. I’ll work with anybody to advance the goal,” Emanuel told reporters when asked whether the two are talking and are any closer to a deal for CPS.

Rauner said the two are “working primarily through the General Assembly on education funding reform.”

And he urged the mayor to get more “involved directly” with the Democratic caucus to make sure the funding formula gets done.

“He has influence in the Democratic caucus. I hope he’ll get involved directly. He hasn’t been doing as much of that, I believe, as I would like to see him,” Rauner said.  “I think we could get it done if he would.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner join Shahid Khan, owner of auto parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the company is opening a new factory at 2924 E. 126th St., Thursday afternoon, May 11, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Emanuel last May became heavily involved in budget talks and was credited with winning legislative support for an increase in the property tax levy to get the Rauner administration on board with a CPS package.

The administration had agreed to give state money for Chicago teacher pensions in exchange for a pension reform bill.

If the pension parity bill hadn’t been tied to pension reform, it would have been viewed as a Chicago bailout.

But Rauner vetoed the CPS pension bill in December, saying it wasn’t tied to overall pension reform. The veto came after Illinois Senate President John Cullerton denied that the CPS and pension reform bills were tied.

Since then, Rauner and Emanuel have engaged in a war of words — each side blaming the other for CPS’ financial mess. City Hall has dubbed Rauner “Governor Gridlock.” And the governor’s office has dismissed Emanuel as “Madigan’s Mayor,” linking him to Rauner’s political nemesis, Speaker Mike Madigan.

Sharing the same room on Thursday, the two avoided name-calling.

Rauner on Thursday said he supports a school funding formula plan that would combine bills by state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, and Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill.

And despite criticisms from Cullerton Wednesday, the governor said the two planned to speak again on Thursday regarding budget talks.

“We’re working 24/7, literally, to get a balanced budget with structural changes to make our economy more competitive,” Rauner said.

Workers’ compensation and property tax bills remain sticking points in the ongoing discussions.

Both Rauner and Emanuel helped to get Urbana-based Flex-N-Gate to expand to Chicago — the state offering up a combination of EDGE tax credits and enterprise zone credits, and both the state and city offering workforce training funds via the Illinois Department of Commerce and the city of Chicago.

Earlier, Rauner attended the commencement ceremony at cash-strapped Chicago State University, where he acknowledged he received a mixture of applause and “negative feedback” — audible boos. Rauner in January appointed board members, including Paul Vallas, to help lead the university’s overhaul. He’s blamed some of the university’s struggles on financial mismanagement, insider dealings and academic failings.

But the university — and all other state universities — have been left in the lurch since Jan. 1 when a partial budget expired. CSU offers degrees to thousands of poor and disadvantaged young people, especially on the South Side. But the university has low graduation rates, a mass exodus of students going to other schools and years of alleged financial mismanagement. It’s also suffering during the state’s budget impasse with students unable to pay for tuition without MAP grant funding.

“When I was introduced and stood up to speak, there was clapping, but there was also some negative feedback. And you know what? I share their frustration,” Rauner said. “This system is broken. I am totally with them. I’d love to boo our system as well. I’m not going to boo it. I’m going to change it.”

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