SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday compared the business practices of Illinois' powerful House speaker with mafia tactics, opening a new attack on his longtime political foe while urging Republican unity following a bruising primary he barely won.
The Republican governor slammed Democrat Michael Madigan during a campaign stop at Ace Sign. Co. in Springfield. He alleged the speaker has used his legislative post to help lower the property tax assessments for clients at his law firm.
"When a politician can raise taxes through the policies that he implements by controlling the General Assembly and ... then he can become a millionaire by having a property-tax appeal law firm on the side where he charges businesses to get their taxes reduced, that is basically in effect a mafia-protection racket," Rauner said.
Madigan has repeatedly noted that he recuses himself from property-assessment legislation.
"The governor is using the 'mafia' language in a desperate attempt to be colorful," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. He said the speaker "has stood up to various Rauner ideas that reduce worker income. Madigan does not see hurting middle class families as the correct route to improving prosperity in Illinois."
Billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker, who easily won the Democratic nomination for governor, is Madigan's "money source," Rauner claimed.
He said Pritzker is part of the "machine" and has long financed campaigns for Madigan and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now serving a federal prison term for political corruption.
"With no record and no allies, Bruce Rauner is building his general election campaign on lies to distract from the pain he's caused across this state," Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said.
Rauner brushed off questions from reporters about whether he was embarrassed by his slim 19,000-vote victory Tuesday over conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the GOP primary.
The multimillionaire former venture capitalist advances to a November matchup with the billionaire businessman, who won the Democratic nomination far more easily.
"We will continue the work," Rauner said. "I respect folks who have different points of view on different issues, the issues that divide us ... What we need to do now is unite on what we agree on."
Rauner has made little progress on many of his top campaign issues from 2014, including lowering local property taxes, rolling back an increase hike and voter-imposed term limits aimed at ending Madigan's 35-year rule as speaker.
Pritzker said this week he would support a higher rate but then lower it for most by expanding deductions for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Slayen added that the Democrat has been "outspoken" in support of drawing independent political maps which encourage competition.
But Rauner said Pritzker's victory would allow gerrymandering of legislative districts with a post-2020 census remap and would ensure "a massive new income tax hike."
"If that were to happen, turn out the lights," Rauner said.