Gov. Bruce Rauner today delivered a largely pro-business State of the State speech intended to frame the debate this election year, urging lawmakers to be “laser-like” in focusing on the state’s economy.
But in the process, the GOP incumbent again offered a series of hot-button political proposals that likely are non-starters in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, including legislative term limits. And his record on creating new jobs in the state—or the lack thereof—immediately caught flak on both sides of the aisle as opponents to his re-election argued that the state can do better.
In the speech, which got a polite—if somewhat cool—reception as it was delivered, Rauner likened turning around the state’s weak economy to the challenge of luring Amazon’s proposed second headquarters here.
“The fact is, there is another much bigger Amazon-like opportunity to pursue. The request for proposal comes from an enterprise called . . . the state of Illinois,” Rauner said. “We have the assets, and certainly have the incentives: 12.8 million fellow citizens who want us to ignite our economy. But this is not a prize one wins alone. It takes a collaborative effort, a forget-about-the-politics-and-roll-up-our-sleeves kind of approach. It requires a laser-like focus on economic development and job creation and a bipartisan dedication to restore public trust.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Rauner didn’t talk about largely economic reforms he has pushed through the years, including revamping the workers’ compensation system, allowing municipalities to ban union-shop contracts and weakening prevailing-wage laws on government jobs. Instead, he focused on two much more volatile but arguably politically appealing measures: limiting the terms of lawmakers—presumably including House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton—and slashing property taxes.
“Eighty percent of the state’s workers want term limits,” Rauner declared. “The other 20 percent, it seems, are seated in this chamber and in elected Illinois courts.”
On property taxes, Rauner called for passage of legislation to allow voters by referendum to not just raise but cut tax rates.
Rauner declared property taxes “a vicious form of oppression. The system traps people in their homes, vaporizes their equity, drives mortgages underwater and, in some cases, pushes people out of our state. It’s time to put a stop to the corruption.”
As insiders said he would, Rauner also urged approval of a measure to ban lawmakers from holding side jobs as tax-appeal lawyers, something that Madigan’s and Cullerton’s law firms both do.
The governor promised to submit a balanced budget next month, one that would start reversing the income-tax hike that was adopted over his veto. But he didn’t say how he would accomplish that without deep spending cuts to programs that are just starting to recover after the state went two years without a regular budget in place.
Reaction was predictably mixed.
“Platitudes and no policy,” sniped Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
“Bruce Rauner has mismanaged the state and hurt Illinois families,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker said in a statement issued even before the speech. “From skirting public accountability to derailing state finances and letting Illinoisans die on his watch, Rauner has proved Illinois is truly run by the worst Republican governor in America.”
Candidate Chris Kennedy weighed in: “Today’s State of the State wasn’t much different than his first State of the State. It was filled with empty promises and a thinly veiled blame game.”
But state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Republican now running for comptroller, said, “I applaud the Governor’s call for common-sense, bipartisan solutions that can deliver real property tax relief for Illinois families starting with reforming the broken and corrupt property tax assessment system. For too long, this system has benefited the insiders and connected while punishing hard-working families who only lack clout.”
The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association had praise, too. “IMA lauds Governor Rauner for his laser focus on growing the economy and adding jobs. It’s time to work collaboratively to once again take advantage of our many assets and make Illinois the economic engine of the Midwest and the nation,” it said in a statement.
Rauner’s foe in the GOP primary, Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, accused Rauner delivering a wandering and inconsistent message.
“It was unity at the beginning, division at the end,” she told me in a phone interview. “How can say you’re going to lead the state in a bipartisan direction after calling Mike Madigan a crook two days ago and disrespecting Republican members of the General Assembly” (by signing a bill to expand public funding of abortion)? She added, “Paying for abortion is not being a good steward of taxpayers’ money.”