Rauner: ‘Let’s put Illinois back on the road to prosperity’

By Eric Bradach

Creating a balanced budget and jobs as well as more “comprehensive” state budget methods were the goals Gov. Bruce Rauner outlined Feb. 15 in his 2017 Budget Address.

The road has been tough for the two-year politician. Rauner has been unable to compromise with the Democratically controlled General Assembly on a proposed spending plan since he took office, and the more than 19-month budget impasse has damaged the state’s finances considerably.

Illinois’ unpaid bills have nearly doubled from the $6 billion Rauner inherited when he took office in January 2015, according to a Jan. 25 statement from Comptroller Susana Mendoza in response to the governor’s State of the State Address.

At the speech, the governor called again for business-friendly property taxes, pension reform and term limits for elected officials.

“We can’t tax our way to prosperity, nor can we just cut our way to a better future,” Rauner said. “We must grow our way to the future we want. Growth means a sustainable future where job creation surges and our schools are the envy of the world.”

Rauner said Illinois’ past unbalanced budgets and restrictive regulations have been holding the state’s economy hostage and stunt job growth. There would have been 650,000 more jobs in the Illinois had it been more competitive, and it has caused residents to exit the state, he added.

“In just six years, we’ve seen a migration loss of more than 540,000 residents,” the governor said. “They’re leaving for jobs, higher wages and lower costs of living.”

Rauner said he had proposed balanced budgets in his last two addresses by spending only what the state could afford and spent a great deal of the opening of his speech discussing past mistakes by previous and current state officials. However, he later stated, “This isn’t about pointing fingers or assigning blame,” to which was met by laughter from those in attendance.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with 15 other state mayors, released a joint statement Feb. 15 calling for Rauner to stop the impasse and introduce a balanced state budget.

“Leaders in both chambers have taken steps toward a bipartisan budget,” the statement said. “Today, we are calling on the governor to do the same and to personally engage in a budget solution that would end the gridlock and allow all Illinoisans to thrive.”

The budget proposal contains a fully funded school transportation plan, a 10 percent increase to Monetary Award Program grant funding and two new Illinois State Police cadet classes to provide more patrols to the Chicago area expressways to counter the city’s rise in violence.

The savings come from provisions such as what Rauner referred to as a “hybrid pension Tier III plan,” which will provide more options for employees and save billions of dollars. In addition, state employee health insurance programs will be more in line with the private sector and would save the state $500 million, he added.

Rauner said in order to bring more jobs to Illinois, the state must reform the worker’s compensation system, re-direct the nation’s highest property tax and get term limits and redistricting on the ballots.

“Changes are necessary to attract employers and create new jobs,” he said. “To send a message to job creators across the country that our state is doing things differently than we have in the past.”

In an effort to confront the financial dilemma in Illinois, leaders in the Senate have been crafting what has been referred to as the “grand bargain” since the 100th General Assembly had been sworn in last month. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, have put together a 12-bill budget package, which would permit an income-tax increase, a two-year property tax freeze and $7 billion in borrowing to pay unpaid bills, as reported Feb. 6 by The Chronicle.

Other than expressing gratitude toward the senators progress during his State of the State address, as reported Jan. 25 by The Chronicle, Rauner has remained silent on his opinion on the budget package’s details.

However, after a tech malfunction with the governor’s teleprompter and him quoting Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in jokingly placing blame on the Russians, he did reveal thoughts on a few of the bills.

“The current Senate proposal calls for a permanent increase in income tax rate but offers only a temporary property tax freeze in exchange,” Rauner said. “That’s just not fair to hard-working taxpayers across the state.”

The governor also expressed concerns over the proposed expansion on the state’s sales tax, which would affect food and drug taxes.

However, Rauner said he is “optimistic” about the state’s future and said he will give his signature when a budget that benefits taxpayers is placed on his desk.

“We are at a crossroads,” he said. “If we work together and make the right decisions now, the potential of our state is unlimited. Let’s put Illinois back on the road to prosperity. Let’s do what we were sent here to do.”