Governor Bruce Rauner Delivers Broad Agenda In State Of The State Address
For the past couple of weeks, Illinois' new Governor, Bruce Rauner, traveled the state, giving speeches that mostly told audiences what's *wrong* with Illinois. On Tuesday, he used his state of the state address to begin to describe what he wants to do about it.
Rauner didn't just deliver a big speech yesterday. He produced a full manifesto complete with calls for an unheaval of Illinois' labor laws, changes to the constitution, a property tax freeze, and the hiring of more prison guards.
The speech started off on a conciliatory note. Or maybe it was an invitation.
"Last November, voters made it clear they want bipartisan government. They want a government where people come together to solve problems and get things done. They don't want partisan bickering, political infighting or personal conflict to get in the way of serving the needs of the families of Illinois," said Rauner.
And then he got aspirational:
"Together, we will do great things for the people of Illinois. We will once again make Illinois the greatest state in the greatest nation on earth."
But then Rauner went on to list a range of ideas, many of which -- by his own admission -- were sure to miff key constituencies.
Like the Democratic President of the State Senate, John Cullerton, who issued a statement saying the governor's "opportunity was squandered with campaign rhetoric that denigrates the reputation of the state."
Rauner is the first Republican to occupy the governor's mansion in a dozen years, and in that time, Democrats have only grown their legislative ranks.
Democrats literally occupy so many seats in the General Assembly, some spill over the aisle and have to sit on the GOP side.
To make his agenda a reality, Rauner has no choice but to get bipartisan support.
And yet he focused on reducing the strength of unions -- a traditional Democratic ally, though in Illinois - downstate Republicans are often closely aligned with them too.
Rauner aims to ban public labor unions from contributing to campaigns, and he wants to reduce workers' rights to collectively bargain.
Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz says it's a page straight out of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's playbook:
"I find it interesting that Wisconsin went through this exercise and now has a budget deficit which is a fact that Gov. Rauner didn't seem to want to talk about.," said Nekritz
The list of initiatives starting on a rough path -- if not going down a dead end -- also included a call for the legislature to self-impose term limits, and a lifting of the state's cap on charter schools.
Even his call for a minimum wage increase -- which Democrats got close to passing last year and are still trying for, was given a cold reception.
There were gasps of surprise, and applause, when Rauner said that's a priority for him, too.
"We must also help those workers who are barely getting by, by raising the minimum wage, " said Rauner, "to $10 an hour over the next 7 years."
Governor Rauner got applause, particularly from black and Latino legislators, when he introduced a proposal to increase minority job opportunities via unions.
Business leaders by and large loved what they heard.
For many Republicans, Rauner's agenda is just what they've been waiting so many years to hear.
House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said, "I'll just say it's really refreshing to be here, after 12 years, having a Republican addressing the General Assembly at the State of the Starte address. It was an absolute pleasure."
"Governor Rauner was very bold, made very direct statements. The type of statements that he ran on. That's what the people of Illinois want to hear, of how we're going to get out of this death spiral. This is about a long-term plan to transform this building and also the state of Illinois," said Durkin
Key to what happens now that the opening pitch has been thrown is what the other House leader the longtime Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan thinks.
Unlike his Senate counterpart, Madigan's response was measured.
"I didn't view it as divisive. I've known Mr. Rauner before he decided to be a candidate for governor. He has a lot of strong views on a lot of public issues. He enunciated a lot of those views in the speech today, which he should do. Now those views, those issues, those bills will be before the legislature. And they'll be disposed of by the legislature. Some favorably, and some not favorably. That's the American democratic process," said Madigan.
Of course, Madigan says, for whatever Rauner wants to make happen, he'll have to drum up the votes.
And Madigan says what Rauner and everyone else needs to focus on now, is the budget. Not next year's. This year's.
With five months left in the fiscal cycle, money's running out.
How the new governor's going to deal with that was noticeably absent from his address.
As was any mention of Illinois' underfunded pension systems.
Or an answer to where Illinois would get the additional money to give to schools and to pay those extra prison guards.
For that - check back in a couple of weeks. Rauner says he'll unveil his financial plans when he gives another big -- speech: the budget address, on February 18, 2015.