Metro-East News

Rauner says economic growth key to balanced budget

File photo of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner
File photo of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner again reiterated his message that economic growth is key to regular balanced budgets in the state during his annual budget address.

He opened his budget address on Wednesday by saying both Republicans and Democrats have been working together for structural change.

“For the first time, legislators from both parties are standing together to say that Illinois must have structural change to grow our economy and create good jobs in every part of our state. That budgets must be truly balanced for the long term — and that to achieve balanced budgets, changes must be made to fix our broken system,” Rauner said. “On this, we all now agree. And that is real progress.”

Rauner has said he is encouraged by the ongoing negotiations toward a budget agreement in the state senate, but he has opted to let the legislators do their work, and not interfere.

The first-term governor, who has had worked during an ongoing budget impasse during his tenure, has also called for reforms along with a balanced budget in order to encourage economic growth in the state.

During his speech he again called for redistricting reform, term limits for elected officials, workers compensation reform and a property tax freeze, which has been passed by the House, as ways to encourage job creators to come to the state.

“Term limits get job creators excited. Passing term limits is one of the most important things we can do to send a positive recruiting message to job creators: ‘it’s a new day in Illinois, we’ve turned the corner,’” Rauner said. “Workers comp changes get job creators excited. We must get our worker’s compensation costs in line with other states. We’re asking for a worker’s compensation system that matches Massachusetts. Massachusetts is a blue state with a strong middle class — and it’s growing.”

A stop-gap budget that was passed last year, expired in January.

We cannot raise taxes on people’s groceries and medicine — just as we cannot tax people’s retirement incomes. We can find a way to balance the budget without hurting lower-income families and fixed-income seniors.

Gov. Bruce Rauner

Rauner is calling for a hard cap on spending. He again called for selling the Thompson Center in Chicago, saying it would benefit everyone in the state.

Rauner again called for pension reform, including a program for new employees to have options, while saving the state money.

“If we do nothing, we can expect our pension costs to grow by $1 billion in just the next year,” Rauner said. “Those payments put an unsustainable strain not only on our pension systems, but on the state’s ability to pay for our schools and other critical services.”

He also called for changes in state health care plans that would be more in line with people in the private sector.

“Our state employees should have health care options just like everyone else – and it is reasonable that they pay for those options in line with everyone else,” Rauner said. “Bringing the state employee health insurance program more in line with the private sector would save our state half a billion dollars.”

He said the budget must be a good deal for taxpayers and job creators.

During his speech, Rauner spoke about how Illinois has lost jobs while there has been job growth in the country since 2000.

He blamed years of unbalanced budgets, large tax burdens and regulations and said those issues hold the state’s economy back.

“If we had the right policies – if we’d made changes to fix our broken system – if we had just grown our economy at the national average, since 2000, we’d have 650,000 more jobs than we have today,” Rauner said.

“Just as important for our budget, if we had grown at the national average since 2000, even with our actual historic spending, we would have run budget surpluses, we would not have any unpaid bill backlog now, and today we would have $8.5 billion more in cash to put into our schools and human services and to reduce our tax rates.”

Rauner repeated just increasing taxes is not the answer to the state’s budget problems, and there must be economic growth that is faster than government spending.

“We’ve tried raising taxes to balance the budget before, without making structural changes to control spending and grow the economy. It has never worked. Taxing our way to a balanced budget would only hasten the exodus of jobs and families from Illinois – an unacceptable option for members of both parties,” Rauner said. “I’ve repeatedly said that I will consider revenue increases if we stand together to make the job-creating changes we need. But structural changes to spending are absolutely essential to balance the budget, and to keep it balanced.”

Currently senators are considering expanding the sales tax to cover services and increasing sales tax on food and drugs.

School districts shouldn’t have to scramble to find a way to pay for transportation costs. Our budget ends this proration once and for all.

Gov. Bruce Rauner

“We’re open to a broader sales tax base to mirror neighboring states like Wisconsin, but let’s make sure it’s best for the people of Illinois, not for the lobbyists in Springfield,” Rauner said. “We cannot raise taxes on people’s groceries and medicine — just as we cannot tax people’s retirement incomes. We can find a way to balance the budget without hurting lower-income families and fixed-income seniors.”

In the budget address, Rauner called for record funding for schools in the state by increasing general state aid, funding for English language learners and early childhood education. Rauner also called for an increase in MAP Grant funding for students to help students go to college.

He also called for fully funding transportation costs for schools around the state for the first time since 2010 to enable schools to get kids to and from career and technical education programs.

“School districts shouldn’t have to scramble to find a way to pay for transportation costs,” Rauner said. “Our budget ends this proration once and for all.”

Rauner also touched upon criminal justice reform efforts and proposed full funding for the Kewanee and Murphysboro Correctional life skills and reentry centers to help offer educational and job readiness courses for inmates. There also would be full funding for mental health facility around the state.

He also spoke about human services providers in the state.

“We know the challenges facing human services … that is why our proposal increases support for Child Care and other programs that assist children, senior citizens, and our other most vulnerable residents,” Rauner said.

Rauner also proposed increasing the Illinois Department of Transportation’s road program by $200 million to help encourage investment and expansion.

“Our transportation network is one of Illinois’ greatest assets, and it is a primary reason why job creators choose to make our state home,” Rauner said.

Rauner’s remarks were briefly interrupted when the teleprompter he was using turned off.

“Over time, as our economy grows and revenues expand, any increase in the income tax could be stepped down — dedicating future surpluses to taxpayers, not more government spending,” Rauner said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter