As Newman Carriers President Joe Newman gave a guided tour of his facility to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, Newman introduced his employees and talked about the operations at his trucking company.
They discussed the cost of trailers and the work ongoing to upgrade a vehicle at the company that serves the chemical industry in the Midwest.
Newman hosted a roundtable discussion with Rauner on job creation and lowering property taxes.
“You can’t be pro-employee ... If small business is not doing well,” Rauner said. “You can’t be pro-employee, if you’re not pro-employer.”
The discussion included Patti Lash, the co-owner of Budget Signs and Trophies, St. Clair County Board Member John West, an O’Fallon Republican, Bob Dee Jr., vice president of Swansea-based Homes by Deesign, and Bob Stock, owner of Stock Transport in Lebanon.
Rauner spent much of the discussion talking about needed reforms that he has pushed for as part of his Turnaround Agenda. The agenda includes pro-business reforms in order to help make the state more competitive, such as workers compensation reform and lowering the burden of property taxes.
Rauner said he has concerns about people who work in Illinois communities near a state border that actually live outside Illinois because of property taxes and other costs.
“We need people to grow and expand our economy,” he said.
Rauner said Indiana is the No. 1 state where Illinois jobs are going due to the high cost of workers compensation in Illinois.
Dee said his workers compensation costs are twice as high as they would be across the Mississippi River in Missouri.
Dee added one thing that could help the construction industry is an improved business environment.
“If people are going to build new homes they need to feel there is confidence in the area and stay in the state of Illinois,” Dee said.
Stock said his company spends about $400,000 a year on workers compensation costs for 70 drivers.
“We pay the same amount of money for our health insurance as we do for our workers comp insurance,” Stock said. “There’s too much money going out for insurance that doesn’t need to go out.”
Newman said he pays $200,000 more in workers compensation costs than if they were in Indiana and more than what he would pay if he were in Missouri.
“I’m two or three miles from St. Louis, I could easily move over there, and the cost would go down,” Newmand said. “I want to stay in Illinois ... Our drivers range from $50,000 to $80,000 year …. We pay good wages. We want these guys to go out and build houses and buy banners, and signs and that. We want them to support the economy.”
He added that he offers 401(k) plans and health insurance to his employees.
“We supply our drivers with full benefit packages,” Newman said. “That’s what we need in Illinois is people to do that. We need a little relief on some things like workers comp, so we can afford to give to the employees.”
West said people in his district are concerned about property taxes being overwhelming and they talk about leaving the state.
“We’re looking (for) a different way of funding schools. Some way of taking it off of the property tax holders and maybe the state could help out in the process,” West said.
Rauner said Illinois has the highest property taxes in the nation and cited the 7,000 units of government leading to a large bureaucracy in the state and the costs of unfunded mandates from Springfield.
“It doesn’t really bring value to you, we’re trying to get those unfunded mandates off, those regulations off, and let you decide yourselves how you handle the cost of government, contracting bidding, collective bargaining … .you can run your governments how you want to run them,” Rauner said.
Rauner has been pushing his Turnaround Agenda as part of the ongoing budget stalemate, which has resulted in a lack of a spending plan for nearly 11 months.
On Tuesday, Rauner along with legislative leaders in both houses met to discuss the ongoing budget issues.
“The meeting itself I thought was very positive, very constructive. In the meeting we agreed we would continue the budget negotiations around the spending levels, around tax reform and we agreed we would continue with the reform negotiations,” Rauner said.
“I’ve been cautiously optimistic for weeks,” Rauner added. “There have been bipartisan discussions around workers comp, around property tax relief, around collective bargaining issues, around government consolidation issues, around pension reform issues, which is all very important to getting to a balanced budget.”
However, Madigan had a different outlook of the meeting.
“The governor’s continued insistence on passage of his agenda that hurts the middle class is a clear indication he is not interested in passing and implementing comprehensive, full-year budgets that do not decimate needed services relied upon by the people of Illinois,” Madigan said.
Madigan noted that lawmakers and Rauner have been able to pass short-term funding for higher education and local government services over the last year when the governor “sets aside his non-budget agenda.”
According to published reports, leaders agreed to appoint lawmakers to an additional working group to find agreement on components of the governor’s Turnaround Agenda.
Rauner reiterated he would be open to increasing revenue through tax increases if they were accompanied by reforms that would help businesses. He wouldn’t comment on specific tax increase or tax reform ideas.
“I want to stay open-minded. I rather cut taxes, I don’t want to increase any taxes, but I’m open to considering different options. And right now, I don’t want to comment on which ones are nonstarters and which ones might work. I think we should let the General Assembly and the bipartisan work groups talk it through…there’s probably 20 different tax ideas.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.