Rauner calls for bipartisanship, but Democrats ready for a fight | WBEZ
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Rauner calls for lower taxes, anti-union regulations in State of the State

Gov. Bruce Rauner preached the importance of bipartisanship while announcing wide-sweeping conservative policy proposals in his first State of the State Address Wednesday. But already Democrats are showing they’re ready for a fight.

Rauner spoke of regressive property taxes that are set by local governments and eliminating caps on the number of charter schools allowed in the state. He also referred to “empowerment zones” as parts of the state that should change work rules for government employees. Those are commonly referred to as right to work laws that have been the subject of union protests in states like Wisconsin and Indiana.

“In our agenda, each of you will probably see some things you don’t like,” Rauner said to senators and representatives in the House chamber. “But each of you will certainly see many things that you like a lot. We should consider it as a whole, not as a list of individual initiatives.”

Rauner has called his agenda “The Illinois Turnaround,” saying the state government is so financially broken that he considers he’s taking on the biggest turnaround in the country. But his suggestions that the financial problems facing Illinois have been caused by contracts that benefit labor unions, not taxpayers, left Democrats to wonder if the governor’s calls for bipartisanship were genuine.

“The people of this state elected a divided government, but the governor will soon learn that it doesn’t mean that he needs to be divisive,” Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said in a statement after Rauner’s address.

Several unions representing government workers and teachers also weighed in with words of caution about Rauner’s approach to state government.

These public servants will be disappointed to learn that the governor is pursuing an aggressive agenda to undermine their rights to a voice on the job and in the democratic process,” said Roberta Lynch in a statement. She heads AFSCME Council 31, the largest public employees union in Illinois.

Rauner also proposed banning unions from contributing to political campaigns, something unions vigorously defend. The governor calls it unethical because those unions can end up bargaining contracts with those they help elect. Labor groups have said they’d be willing to talk with the governor over this topic, if he were willing to also put limits on wealthy individuals’ campaign donations. Rauner, who reported earning $60 million last year, has given his own campaign fund nearly $38 million since 2013.

Meantime, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has raised concerns about a budget hole created in part by a reduction in the state’s income tax. He estimated the state will face a projected $11 billion budget hole over the next two years. Despite that hole, Rauner said Wednesday he wants to increase funding for early childhood education.

“If we don’t fix the budget, if we don’t get spending under control and match it up with revenue and - probably with an increase in revenue and cuts in services, nothing else will matter,” said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.


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