Half of the people who heard Gov. Bruce Rauner speak at Eckert’s Farms in Belleville Monday afternoon cheered in support of the Winnetka Republican’s Turnaround Agenda. The other half —union workers dressed in workboots and hardhats — loudly booed and heckled the governor the whole time he spoke.
Rauner’s visit came as tension in Springfield tightens after the General Assembly —led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago — ended its regular session by passing a fiscal 2016 budget that’s more than $3 billion out of balance.
Democratic leaders and Rauner have not been able to agree on the budget. Rauner has proposed cuts in state funding for Medicaid by $1.5 billion, cuts in funding to local governments by roughly $600 million and cuts to public universities’ individual budgets by roughly 31 percent, among other things to balance the state budget. He has said the only way he’ll entertain proposals to increase taxes is if legislators also agree to pass pro-business reforms, institute term limits and give local residents greater control over their property tax rates.
Democrats — and union workers who support them — have panned both the reforms and the cuts Rauner has proposed if those reforms are not made, saying they fatten the wallets of the super rich on the backs of workers and their families.
Before Rauner spoke, Sam James, a Fairview Heights resident and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 309, said he came Monday to stand up to Rauner’s “my way or the highway” approach.
“(Rauner’s agenda) doesn’t really represent the workers at all. It doesn’t represent the working class,” James said. “It doesn’t have anybody in mind except for big business, for a few people at the top.”
James said that in his opinion, lawmakers in Springfield seem unwilling to negotiate with one another on the budget. “Everybody has their own agenda, it seems like,” he said. “And yet we’re the ones that are paying the price for that. I am. All my brothers are. My family’s suffering because of everybody else’s agenda. So we gotta stand.”
During his speech, Rauner said he’s the one standing up for Illinois residents.
“Our state has been controlled by the Chicago political machine for years and years,” he said. “This is about empowering everyone in the state. (Madigan and Cullerton) are trying to force a tax hike on you. We’re not going to let it happen.”
Supporters cheered Rauner’s reformist attack on Madigan and Cullerton, who he said were part of the “Chicago political class.” But the union members in the crowd drowned out the applause. “Go home,” one man shouted. “We don’t want your reform.”
When Rauner met with reporters after the speech, he repeated a warning he’s been giving a lot lately: Get ready for “a rough summer.”
“We’ve got to get the power away from (Madigan and Cullerton). They’re not going to give it up easily, this is going to be a rough summer,” Rauner said. “We’re going to negotiate in good faith. We have been for months. We want bipartisan agreement.”
“It’s going to be a number of weeks” before a deal is made, but Rauner said he wants to avoid a state government shutdown. But he said his office is “making contingency plans” anyway since none of the budget bills the General Assembly passed have been delivered to his desk.
State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican who announced he would retire at the end of his term, said the change the governor supports will take years to accomplish.
“To anyone who would listen for the last eight to 10 years, I have said we’re headed for disaster,” Luechtefeld said. “We’re there now. And now it’s going to take a lot to get out of that hole. This is not something you fix and then you go home. It’s going to take years.”