TUA’s Jared Labell was quoted by the Belleville News-Democrat on his reaction to Rauner’s speech.
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner, in his first State of the State address, outlined a plan Wednesday that he said will keep Illinois competitive.
His proposals included curbing union powers, implementing pro-business reforms and cutting the size of government.
Rauner, a Republican elected in November, said the state’s top priority must be to “grow more jobs here.” He said worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance need to be reformed.
“We must avoid slipping further behind other states in the quality of our children’s education, the capacity of our economy to grow, and our ability to care for our state’s most vulnerable,” Rauner told lawmakers. “It’s now or never for Illinois. It’s time to act.”
In what could be viewed as a peace offering to Democrats, he also called for increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour. But Democrats literally laughed at the proposal when Rauner finished the sentence — calling for the increase to happen over seven years.
As expected, Rauner called for a variety of measures designed to rein in state employee unions, such as prohibiting them from giving campaign money to lawmakers.
Rauner also said “trial lawyers” shouldn’t be able to finance judicial campaigns, and called for moving to merit-based selection of judges.
Rauner said he hopes to provide more funding for education, and said one of his priorities will be improving education “from cradle to career.”
Among metro-east lawmakers, the speech got a much warmer reception from Republicans than from Democrats.
Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Swansea Democrat, said the speech was divisive.
“I’ve got to tell you, I was hoping there would be more of a bipartisan tenor, that we could work together on some issues that are affecting the state,” Hoffman said. “Some of the topics that were touched on by the governor today, quite frankly, I think will incite a lot of opposition from our side of the aisle. Directly attacking the right of individuals to organize, and of individuals to collectively bargain, is certainly a problem for our side of the aisle.”
Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Lebanon Republican, said some of Rauner’s proposals mirror legislation he’s been pushing for years.
“Obviously, I was encouraged,” McCarter said. “He’s talking about bills I’ve sponsored.”
Rauner is planning to make a swing through Southern Illinois on Thursday to tout the plans. The schedule includes a stop at a Troy truck center at 9:30 a.m.
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said the speech was “probably the first real, true state-of-the-state address that I’ve heard in the five years that I’ve been here — on point, labeled the problems we have, and the solutions that we need to rely upon to fix it.”
Kay said he heard Rauner use the word “competitive” several times.
“No one — no one — can disagree that we are not a competitive state,” Kay said.
Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, said: “I’m willing to take his proposals and try to find common ground. Some of them, I don’t think his staff has clearly thought out.”
Haine said Rauner’s proposal to let local governments create “right-to-work” zones, for example, would be difficult to implement because it would create a hodgepodge of employment rules across the state.
Rauner said the right-to-work zones “will give employees the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union. Local communities — local voters — deserve this option so that they can compete with other states and other nations for new businesses and new investment.”
Hoffman said it seemed contradictory for Rauner to promise support for schools “while at the same time, he’s attacking teachers” and other union members.
Hoffman also said it’s unfair to prohibit unions and lawyers from supporting political candidates.
“Not everybody is a multibillionaire,” Hoffman said in a reference to Rauner, who put millions into his gubernatorial campaign. “People have a right to contribute to the candidates of their choice.”
Haine added: “I don’t know how that’s going to be consistent with the Constitution.”
Many of Rauner’s proposals are likely to meet opposition from the Democrats who control both the House and Senate, as well as some Republicans who have strong relationships with labor unions.
Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican, said he hopes there’s room for Rauner and Democrats to reach agreement on issues.
“Parties tend to work together only when they have to, and I hope that we’re at that stage now,” Luechtefeld said. “Right now you have a situation where both parties can share some of the pain that we’re going to have to go through over a long period of time.”
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said the speech was “the first honest State of the State I’ve heard from an Illinois governor in over a decade. I agree with Gov. Rauner that we must make Illinois more competitive. We can’t afford to keep losing our population and jobs to our border states.”
Rauner said he wants to freeze property taxes for two years, give local government employees the right to decide whether to join a union and begin looking for ways to eliminate or consolidate some of Illinois’ more than 7,000 units of government.
Rauner also included some proposals legislators could be more willing to embrace, including spending more money on K-12 and early childhood education and investing in programs that keep non-violent offenders out of prison.
But major questions remain about how initiatives will be paid for, given the drop in revenue from the Jan. 1 rollback of Illinois’ temporary income tax increase and a backlog of bills in the billions of dollars. Some agencies and programs already are running out of money this year, and the state faces an approximately $6 billion drop in revenue in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Rauner is scheduled to propose his budget plan on Feb. 18.
While he didn’t tip his hand completely during Wednesday’s address, he said his agenda includes income tax rates that are “low” and “competitive with other states. He also said he wants to “modernize” the sales tax by imposing a tax on some services.
- REACTIONS TO RAUNER’S SPEECH:
Michael Carrigan, Illinois AFL-CIO president: “It’s apparent that Gov. Rauner plans to govern like the ultra-wealthy CEO that he is — by taking care of the few at the expense of the many. While he points to the salaries of those cooking the food in the cafeterias, guarding the prisoners and plowing the snow and ice from our roads as the culprits in our state financial woes, he is silent on the hundreds of tax breaks granted to large businesses and low corporate income tax in Illinois. Instead of seeking solutions that empower all the working families of Illinois to fuel the economy, his proposals will destabilize middle-class economic security by cutting compensation for injured workers, defunding unemployment insurance reserves, demonizing public employees and suppressing wages.”
Jared Labell, Taxpayers United of America:“My optimism over the implications of Gov. Rauner’s fiscal policy on taxpayers vanished with his glaring omission of how he would pay for the big spending increases in the education and prison systems… I guess we will have to wait for his budget speech to see if the governor’s proposal is really just a massive tax increase for average taxpayers, who would be hardest hit by such an indiscriminate tax hike.”
John Tillman, Illinois Policy Institute CEO:“We are encouraged that Gov. Rauner plans to back up his bold policy reforms with an aggressive legislative agenda. The Illinois Policy Institute has long supported giving parents more choice and control over where their kids go to school. We have long supported a right-to-work law, because it empowers workers. We believe new ideas and innovation should be encouraged, not caught in red tape and excessive regulations. And perhaps most important, government must live within its means the same way we all do at home, and be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.”
Dan Montgomery, Illinois Federation of Teachers president: “Our current state budget is unsustainable, but attacking the middle class with regressive, trickle-down policies that have failed miserably in other states is not the way to grow our economy. Austerity isn’t a path toward prosperity. As teachers and public employees, we’ve endured plenty of shared sacrifice in our classrooms and communities. It’s time for corporations and the very wealthy to pitch in — especially since an overwhelming majority of voters demanded that millionaires pay their fair share for education just a few months ago.”
Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton: “Too much blaming and not enough solving. The people of Southern Illinois want solutions. I want to work with this governor, but I’m not interested in balancing the budget on the backs of working families. That’s not going to help people around here.”
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: “It was quite refreshing to have an honest assessment of our state’s fiscal situation. Much of the governor’s focus will be on making Illinois a destination for businesses to invest and bringing jobs back to our state and I fully support that. For far too long we have chased businesses and jobs out of Illinois, this will be a welcome change. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but I believe the governor has made an important step in the right direction.”
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago: “Unfortunately, too much of the governor’s opportunity was squandered with campaign rhetoric that denigrates the reputation of the state… With each speech that Gov. Rauner delivers, I am reminded that the new governor has a lot to learn if he is to build on our successes in Medicaid reform, worker’s compensation, pension reform, cutting the bill backlog and meeting our obligations… The people of this state elected a divided government, but the governor will soon learn that it doesn’t mean that he needs to be divisive.
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: “I love the word ‘empowerment’ because that means there’s going to be an effort to let people have more control over their lives, and state government is going to get out of the way. What that means to entrepreneurs like me is lowering the cost of doing business, which will free up capital for me to hire more people and help build the community where I live.”