A week ago, Illinois lawmakers and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner reached a compromise, ending a dubious streak of a budget-less state government operations. Seen as a step in the right direction, the stop-gap budget, which will keep the state government funded for the next six months, was the main topic of conversation during Eyewitness News’ exclusive, one-on-one interview with Gov. Rauner Thursday afternoon.
The stop-gap budget ended more than a year of political posturing, bickering and take-it-or-leave-it demands. Not only does it provide the first glimmer of hope in the ongoing negotiations between Gov. Rauner, top democrats and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, the measure provides a much-needed infusion of cash to strapped school districts, green-lights road projects and keeps social services up and running.
Echoing the sentiments of many in Southern Illinois and elsewhere in the state, Gov. Rauner said it was about time that a budget was passed.
“The fact that it took so long to get a reasonable spending plan and even then it’s only six months, it shows how broken the system is,” Gov. Rauner said during a one-on-one interview at Fairfield City Hall Thursday afternoon.
In order to strike a compromise, democrats had to agree to a package that included $215 million to help financially-strapped Chicago Public Schools that is contingent upon lawmakers approving significant pension reform by January.
Gov. Rauner also had to make his own concessions.
“We didn’t get a balanced budget,” Gov. Rauner said. “My focus is a really balanced budget. We, in Illinois, have been deficit spending. I’ve looked back now 25 years and I can’t find a balanced budget.”
The pension reform discussion is now front and center, Gov. Rauner said, arguably one of the main priorities of his administration. The state has the largest unfunded pension liability in the country at $110 billion.
The states economy is far from rosy, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was the second highest in the country in May 2016, behind only by the State of Alaska.
It’s one of several indicators that paint a bleak picture.
“Illinois needs big change. We are in trouble as a state. We are the most mismanaged state in America. We’ve got the biggest debt of any state in America. We’ve had some of the slowest economic growth of any state in America,” Gov. Rauner said. “We have fewer jobs than we had 17 years ago, lower family incomes than we did 17 years ago. We need big change and one or two small small changes won’t fix the problem.”
The priorities of Gov. Rauner’s agenda moving forward include having a spending plan in place that is more reasonable and better for taxpayers; imposing term limits for elected officials; re-districting reform and putting a halt on rising property taxes, which are among the highest in the country, he said.
To find inspiration, he looks no further than the Illinois-Indiana state line, he said.
“What we’ve got to do is what Indiana has already done. The balance of power between taxpayers and special interest groups inside government needs to get balanced,” Gov. Rauner said. “Workers comp costs in Illinois are some of the highest in America. We’re right next door to Indiana which has the lowest workers comp costs in America and manufacturers can compete in Indiana. They can’t compete in Illinois.”
The republican governors agenda remains ambitious despite the long-standing deadlock in Springfield. While the six-month budget was only a small step, at least it’s something.
“People think, ‘well, we’re fighting over the budget.’ We’re not really fighting over the budget as much as we’re fighting over economic growth,” Gov. Rauner said. “If we grow strong, we have lower unemployment and more jobs. Family incomes will go up and we’ll have the tax base to cover our budget and balance it so we have revenues matching expenses without having to raise taxes.”