Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s third “State of the State” address touched on a wide range of topics Wednesday, from job creation to education and many things in between.
The last third of his nearly 40-minute address was devoted to the state’s budget problems. Rauner implored legislators on both sides of the aisle to come together to hammer out a budget, something the state has been without for most of his two years in office.
“We haven’t had a full year budget of some kind in a year-and-a-half – and we haven’t had a state budget that is truly balanced in decades,” Rauner said. “We have more than $11 billion in unpaid bills, a $130 billion unfunded pension liability, and the worst credit rating in the nation. We have the fifth highest overall tax burden and one of the lowest rates of job creation of any state. ...
“These problems aren’t new, but these problems are now ours to solve. We can, and we must, do better.”
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Rauner said the state’s budget woes have led to a ripple effect throughout the state, including harming human service organizations, causing student and faculty departures at state colleges and universities and preventing businesses from operating in the state.
“We are seeing the collective impact of those realities from Carbondale to Chicago, from East St. Louis to Danville,” Rauner said. “Families and employers are leaving. Nonprofits and small businesses are cutting staff and services. We are failing to be compassionate because we are failing to be competitive.”
Rauner implored leaders from both sides of the aisle to work together and “make changes to our broken system to return our state to a path of prosperity.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said that passing a balanced budget is a top priority for the House Democratic Caucus.
“We can also agree that Illinois must take serious steps to improve our business climate and create new job opportunities,” Madigan said in a statement. “But House Democrats reject the idea that the only way to create jobs in Illinois is to cut wages and strip away workplace protections in order to pad the profits of big corporations. Instead, we will work to advance an agenda of positive economic reforms that improve the business climate without hurting the middle class.
“We believe we can grow our economy and create jobs without hurting middle-class families. We can provide good jobs for working families while also passing policies that help businesses grow – those two ideas are not mutually exclusive to one another. Under my direction, the House will begin a thorough vetting process of proposals that will enable us to create jobs while also lifting up and helping the middle class and struggling families around our state.”
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, agreed with Madigan, saying he wants to protect downstate businesses and families.
“My top priority is to pass a budget that supports our hard-working families in Southern Illinois and helps our businesses grow,” Costello said in a statement. “I will work hard with my colleagues across the aisle to pass a budget that protects worker’s wages and benefits and also improves the business climate in Illinois – we can do both.”
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, echoed statements Rauner made about keeping businesses in Illinois and trying to attract businesses to set up shop in the state.
“Rauner talks about being more welcoming for job creators and that’s what stuck out to me,” McCarter said. “If you want people to stay in Illinois and want them to have jobs, you have to be more welcoming to job creators. ... We need real reforms in worker’s comp, we need more control of local governments to lower the cost of doing business in the state and we need lower property taxes.”
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, commended Rauner for his school-funding efforts and said he is committed to getting a budget passed.
“The governor recognized challenges still exist and I agree with him that both Democrats and Republicans must work together,” Meier said in a statement. “By working together we can get Illinois back on track by increasing jobs and growing our economy. 2017 marks a new session and a new General Assembly, I look forward to working with both parties and the governor to make Illinois a better state to live and work.”
Rauner said his administration has “made education from cradle to career a top priority.”
“Two years ago, we delivered unprecedented funding for our K-12 schools, and the next year we came back and did it again,” Rauner said. “In all, our kids are receiving $700 million more per year from the state than two years ago, including an extra $100 million for early childhood education. The practice of proration has come to an end.”
Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that Rauner was to blame for the state’s budget problems.
“The State of Illinois has been around for 200 years,” Montgomery said in his statement. “We’ve had a budget for 198 of them. Democrats and Republicans worked together before. The only difference now is Bruce Rauner. Today’s speech made it clear that Gov. Rauner has accomplished very little in the last two years. He has held Illinois hostage, vetoing budgets that don't meet his unpopular, political demands and driving our state downward into chaos. Look no further than our higher education system.
“Gov. Rauner has called his approach ‘leverage.’ We call it irreparable harm and a failure of leadership. Tying the budget to anti-worker reforms is not only wrong, it's unnecessary. We can ask the most wealthy to pay their fair share and close corporate loopholes to help fund our state without harming working people.”
John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, said in a statement that “it’s time for every member of the General Assembly to join the people’s call for reform.”
“(A) tax hike cannot solve Illinois’ problems unless lawmakers structurally reform state spending,” Tillman said in his statement. “Raising taxes without structural spending reforms is a failed strategy. Politicians have not earned the right to raise the people’s taxes.”
Rauner is scheduled to give a separate address on the state budget next month.
On Wednesday, he made an appeal for term limits and redistricting.
“I ask you today, on behalf of all the people of Illinois – Democrats and Republicans – please do the right thing and pass the bills to put term limits and fair maps on the ballot,” he said. “Let the people decide these issues for themselves. End the power of incumbency and special interest groups, and give power back to the people of our state.”