Gov. Bruce Rauner said he has personally reached out to Amazon executives in hopes of convincing the online retail giant to select Illinois for its second headquarters. Rauner said his administration is working with officials in Chicago and across the state on a series of proposals that will be sent to Amazon by next month’s deadline.
Rauner spoke to WBEZ Monday night from Tokyo, where he stayed during the middle of an eight day trip to Japan and China. It is Rauner’s first official overseas trip as governor, and he said he is trying to lure more companies from both countries to Illinois.
One problem: Since he was a candidate, Rauner has been a vocal critic of Illinois’ business climate, harping on local governments’ reliance on property taxes, the state’s onerous workers compensation system, and its licensing and regulations.
Rauner discussed his trip, his messaging, and the bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. Here are some interview highlights.
On Amazon accepting bids from states and cities for its second headquarters
Gov. Bruce Rauner: Amazon’s second headquarters is an exciting opportunity. I have personally been talking to senior executives at Amazon myself. Our economic development team at Intersect Illinois and our department of commerce is working very closely with the Amazon executives. ...
We helped bring them to Illinois and expand their eight warehouse facilities —- more than 9,000 employees — that we brought in recent years through our team’s work. ... I think we’re gonna be very competitive. Our team is working with the city of Chicago’s economic development team, as well as the regional teams around the state. And we’re doing a coordinated, joint package of proposals that we’re going to be submitting in October to Amazon.
On conversations with Japanese businesses leaders
Rauner: There are more than 630 Japanese companies that have invested in Illinois. They have more than 1,200 locations, which is incredible, and they employ almost 50,000 Illinoisans now. ... But we do talk candidly about the things that we’re trying improve and what I’m trying to do as governor. The most important thing we can do in Illinois is not only invest in our education — and I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in education — but to make our business climate more attractive, and the regulatory climate and also the taxes.
I did hear from one company that wants to grow in Illinois. (On Sunday) we met with them. (Rauner declined to name the company.) And they emphasized property taxes were a hindrance. They were very candid about it. We talked about how we’re working to reduce the property taxes. They were excited to hear that because they’d like to invest and grow in Illinois, but the property taxes are a problem and they asked us for help.
On promoting state businesses after he’s frequently criticized the business climate
Rauner: It’s not contradictory. What it is is the truth. It’s the fact. We have some of the greatest attributes to build businesses of any state in America. We also have some of the most heavy restrictions and regulations and highest taxes. Those are the facts. ...
Illinois tends to be one of the slowest-growing states. And it’s despite O’Hare (International Airport), despite our infrastructure, despite our education. Those are world-class. It’s because of our regulations and our taxes. So if we can change those — and we’re working to do it — we’ve had some progress. Boy, we can boom.
On agreeing to borrow $6 billion to pay down nearly half the state’s backlog of bills, after enduring $2 million-a-day late fees for two months
Rauner: We are bringing more discipline and financial structural leadership to the state. We have been running deficits as a state for decades, unfortunately. The really tragic thing is despite my veto [of the state budget], my veto of the tax hike was overridden, my veto of the spending plan was overridden. … We’re still running a billion and a half dollar deficit. It’s a major problem. ...
I’ll be working with the General Assembly to get the budget truly balanced for the first time in decades. I’ll never give up on that. We need a balanced budget. We need to live within our means. As part of that, our team has come up with over half a billion dollars in savings and spending reductions that we can implement, and we’ll use those savings to pay down the principal on the refinancing, the bond borrowing that we’re looking at. ...
We have a huge bill backlog of unpaid bills. Many of those carry interest of 12 percent. Some are 9 percent. And we can borrow in the bond market more like 6 percent, or roughly half. So we can save taxpayers’ money with lower interests and if we cut some spending in other categories.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.