Thompson Center battle heats up between Emanuel, Rauner

- Top city and state officials agree: selling the state of Illinois's Thompson Center could benefit taxpayers and bring jobs to the loop. 

And while it sounds like a good idea, it appears to be going nowhere.

Gov. Bruce Rauner met reporters in a Thompson Center utility room. Rauner said the state office building needs $326 million in repairs and maintenance. He wants to sell the structure instead, putting up to $300 million into the state treasury, which certainly needs the cash. There are some complications, including a CTA station in the basement and a rezoning the governor wants.

“This is a home run for the city, a home run for the state,” Rauner said. “Why has this been held up? Why has there been no action whatsoever on this building? And why does the mayor's office throw up artificial roadblocks?”

Part of the answer: Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to have adopted the governor's own signature political tactic. For the second straight day, Emanuel linked any Thompson Center deal to school funding. Rightly or wrongly, the mayor feels Rauner double-crossed him by vetoing pension reform that would have saved city taxpayers millions of dollars. 

“If you're interested in helping Chicago Public Schools, you would have signed the pension bill that would have funded and created pension parity rather than dual taxation for Chicago residents,” Emanuel said.

Rauner has his own long list of grievances. Keeping track of all the charges and counter-charges is difficult. In the meantime, state government is spending billions of dollars more than ever before, including on systems at the Thompson Center that seem perfectly symbolic.

“It's real components that are failing every day, that we're putting emergency maintenance to. Millions of dollars a year in emergency maintenance just to keep the building going. That's been going on for decades,” said Mike Hoffman, director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services.

The general assembly faces a May 31 deadline to approve a balanced state budget. Virtually no one believes it will happen.

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