News Local/State

Gov. Bruce Rauner On Budget Impasse, Minimum Wage, And More

'Morning Shift' host Tony Sarabia discusses a listener question with Gov. Bruce Rauner during 'Ask the Governor' on Feb. 10, 2017.

'Morning Shift' host Tony Sarabia discusses a listener question with Gov. Bruce Rauner during 'Ask the Governor' on Feb. 10, 2017. Gabrielle Wright/WBEZ

Staring down a litany of economic problems and a June 30 deadline to ensure schools will open in the fall, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner continued to blame Democratic legislative leaders Friday for the lack of a state budget deal, as the top Senate Democrat predicted the governor will be “toast” if he doesn’t do his part to end the stalemate.

Rauner’s appearance on WBEZ’s Morning Shift came a day after two major credit ratings agencies threatened to lower the state’s credit rating to junk status if there’s no deal by the end of the month, when the state’s fiscal year ends. Universities and social services have gone without any state support since January, and K-12 classrooms have no assurances of what kind of support the state will provide to them in the immediate future.

“We already know the terrible consequences. We haven’t had balanced budgets for years,” Rauner said when asked what happens if there is still no budget deal by June 30. “Our jobs leave, our human services suffer.”

Rauner again called for a property tax freeze and an overhaul to the state’s workers compensation system as a part of any budget deal. 

“When we’re on a good path -- a good path- - to change the system, there’s no need for different answers,” Rauner said when asked why he’s stuck with the same talking points as the budget crisis has dragged on. “Democrats come up to me and say, ‘Governor, stay strong. You’re on the right track.’”

House lawmakers did not even vote on a budget plan before a key Wednesday deadline this week, meaning it will now take more votes to approve a budget deal. House Speaker Michael Madigan has called for special hearings this month. Madigan said his fellow Democrats don’t trust Rauner, after watching Senate Democrats try -- and fail -- to negotiate a budget with Republicans. 

Speaking after Rauner wrapped up his conversation on Friday’s Morning Shift, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) teed off on Rauner.

“I’m just telling you how frustrating this is because we’ve done everything that he’s asked,” Cullerton said. 

Cullerton accused Rauner of “hijacking” Senate budget negotiations, suggesting that Rauner added $20 million to his own campaign fund to run Republican primary opponents against incumbents if they voted in favor of a budget plan, just as the Senate was calling those bills for a vote.

“He’s been spending time working on his commercials and his campaign instead of governing,” Cullerton said. “And the irony is, he would actually have a better chance of getting elected if he would’ve passed the budget. Without a budget, this guy is toast.”

Other issues that came up during Friday’s Morning Shift:

  • Rauner repeated that a proposal that passed the Illinois legislature to change the state’s inequitable school funding formula is a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools. “That is wrong. It’s not fair to taxpayers in Harvey and Waukegan and Berwyn and Rockford and Danville.” Cullerton responded by saying the bill ends special deals for schools districts, including an end to Chicago taxpayers paying into both CPS teacher pensions and those of downstate and suburban teachers. “(Rauner’s) either wildly uninformed or it’s extortion,” Cullerton said. 
  • Rauner said he does not support a bill to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years, saying it would “crush jobs.” Rauner claimed to have negotiated with Democrats for an increase to $11 an hour to replace the current $8.25. “They did that not to achieve a higher minimum wage, which we could have achieved. They did it for political spin and a headline against me,” Rauner said.
  • Rauner stopped short of saying he opposes a measure to make Chicago’s school board elected instead of appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. A bill to elect 14 board members plus a board president passed the Senate but still needs House approval. “My big issue is to make sure special interest groups that make their money from the schools don’t dominate the school board or the school board elections,” Rauner said. He wouldn’t say whether he opposes the concept of an elected school board, but said, “The devil’s in the detail.”