Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and other state department heads were in O’Fallon Monday for a business summit with local business leaders.
During a 15-minute press conference before the summit, Rauner said, “Illinois cannot escape its economic problems through budget cuts or tax increases. We’ve got to grow; we’ve got to become a growth state.”
Rauner also spoke optimistically about plans to bring the National Geospatial-Intelligenice Agency to a site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base.
Rauner said he will be meeting with federal and state officials “to develop a message and a plan to go to the federal government to put in the word and create encouragement to bring that to Illinois.”
During the press conference, Rauner addressed a wide range of issues dealing with economic development in the state. He urged local governments to choose “employment flexibility” regarding whether public employees must join unions. Without such flexibility, Illinois remains off the list of competitive states that top corporations wish to move jobs to, according to Rauner.
“We need to get on the list,” he said. “We need to compete. We need the flexibility.”
Rauner refused to rule out the possibility of pushing for new taxes to close the state’s budget gaps. “However, we’ve got to have structural reform prior to that,” he said.
The governor also spoke favorably about the recently floated idea of building a new stadium for the Rams NFL team in the metro-east, which he called a “terrific location.” The metro-east has the infrastructure, and “We’ve got the hard-working people to build it. And we’ve got access into St. Louis without the congestion issues. ...”
Rauner deflected a reporter’s question about whether proposed cuts in the state budget would impose a heavier burden on local governments. Instead, he promoted a reform agenda that calls for greater local control of state funds.
“And if we get our reform agenda done, that’ll free up even more public money that we can put into public schools,” the governor said. “That will free up the local tax burden and allow local taxpayers to not have to put as much money into schools and allow them to support more government services at the local level.”
Key representatives of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois met with the governor and the heads of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; the Illinois Department of Employment Security, and the Illinois Department of Labor.
The summit was not open to the public. The visit included a briefing by the Leadership Council’s Scott Air Force Base Task Force.