Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner this week marked his first year in office. His State of the State address was a reminder to state lawmakers and constituents of the dysfunction that led us to Illinois Held Hostage: Day 215 without a state budget.
Yet amid the gloom of a taxpayer leaving our state every five minutes, our state’s failure to join the rest of the nation in rebounding from the recession and a $111 billion pension hole that swallows everything else, he extended an olive branch and showed us a ray of light.
He announced a state employee pension deal with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton that will save $1 billion a year. He discussed cuts, fraud prevention and efficiencies that came close to saving another $1 billion. And he discussed implementing the findings from the committee formed to reduce Illinois’ 6,963 layers of local government as well as the committee formed to cut the Illinois prison population 25 percent by 2025.
He repeated his call to action for our state lawmakers. Term limits and redistricting reform, workman’s comp reform, property tax reform and reining in spending on state workers, including a constitutional change to allow pension reforms, were all again listed as essential to making Illinois competitive in attracting employers and reversing the jobs bleed.
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“I understand that union leaders and trial lawyers are putting pressure on you to keep the status quo — but if we don’t offer a competitive environment for businesses, pretty soon the unions won’t have any more jobs to unionize and the trial lawyers won’t have any more businesses to sue,” Rauner said.
Sadly, we heard the same-old, same-old from the trial lawyers, from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — who are seeking another $3 billion in the middle of this mess — and from House Speaker Michael Madigan. Just how do any of them expect this thing to end?
Well, they irrationally think it ends with them showing Rauner who’s boss and by taking another $5 billion from taxpayers so they can continue swirling down the dark, watery hole called the state pension fund. The last tax increase was swallowed by it, and we’ve gone from it costing $1.4 billion per year a decade ago to $7.6 billion this year.
Something’s gotta give so we can focus on building a future.
That future is education. Rauner set 10 goals, with an emphasis on preschool, school funding reform, technical training, school choice and removing the teaching distractions while holding school leaders accountable for results.
“Let’s talk about the single most important thing we do together as a community, and that is educate our young people,” Rauner said. “The key to rising family incomes, more high paying jobs, and a better life for everyone in Illinois, is to have a high quality, fully-integrated education system from cradle to career....”
There’s the middle ground for everyone in state government: If there’s one thing for which we should be willing to work together, it is most certainly the state’s youngsters.