Gov. Rauner Briefly Mentions the Budget Impasse in State of the State Speech

Jan 27, 2016

Governor Bruce Rauner used his state of the state address Wednesday to say that he wants to bring back competitive balance to Illinois. 

Rauner had an unenviable duty: to give a major address, before a joint session of the General Assembly, at a time the state has gone nearly eight months without a budget.  It's a task no other Governor has had to face - though Rauner's critics would argue it's self-inflicted.

The governor didn't address the budget situation directly, save for at the very end of his half-hour speech.

"We all know, all of us in this chamber, had a difficult year together in 2015. As we debated a budget with structural reform."

              Even as he spoke, protestors chanted in the capitol rotunda.

Though Rauner returned to previous themes - like weakening unions - the governor went out of his way to strike a more conciliatory tone with Democrats, who control the legislature.

He spoke of a pending compromise with the Senate's top Democrat on pensions, and of mutual respect.

Especially in recent weeks, Rauner has been quick to lash out at Democrats for not going along with his union-weakening prescription for creating jobs, and reviving the economy.

He's not leaving those plans behind. But Rauner didn't use his bully pulpit to hammer down on the other party.

"We were all elected to do a job. Our job is to improve the quality of life for all the people of Illinois."

But he continued to have harsh words for labor. Rauner said AFSCME's compensation demands for a new contract are out-of-touch with reality, since Illinois has the highest paid state employees in the country and they are paid 30-percent more than their private-sector counterparts.

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says the governor is wrong and hypocritical.

"The governor opened his speech by thanking public service workers, especially emergency responders, and then devoted much of the rest of the speech to false attacks."

Lindall says the University of Illinois revealed that Illinois state workers are paid 13.5% percent less than their private-sector counterparts and Illinois ranks 9th  in terms of state workers' pay.

The governor barely mentioned that Illinois is without a budget.

"I certainly would have appreciated it had he done that, had he offered some comment as to why that hasn't happened."

That was House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner's chief political opponent.  Social service programs are shutting down without state funding.

Democratic State Representative Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg says he was disappointed the governor didn't talk more about it.

"This is not a game. There's a lot of families struggling. The governor needs to make crafting a budget his number one priority.”

Rauner says he wants to work closely with the Democratic Senate President John Cullerton to improve how Illinois funds local schools.

Cullerton says the current state formula fails to go far enough to help schools in low-income areas.

"We really want to push this.  This is something that's not just for Chicago.  In fact,  it eliminates some special benefits that Chicago is getting right now.  It would be one formula for the whole state.  It would be driving money to the areas where there is a concentration of poverty."

Senator Cullerton says he's open to crafting a plan where no district loses money.  But,  he points out that will cost more.

GOP State Representative Terri Bryant of Murphysboro says there are plenty of schools in her district that could use some help.

"Many of the areas that are in my part of the district get shortchanged year after year after year. So, moving forward I think there's a real effort to move to funding that will help downstate schools more."

The governor also outlined a ten-point plan focused on education.

"The key to rising family incomes, more high-paying jobs and a better life for everyone in Illinois is to have a high-quality, fully integrated education system from cradle to career. From early education to K-12 public schools to outstanding community colleges and universities."

Many of those ideas are controversial. While he didn't get into details during the speech ... mentions of "school choice" seem to indicate a push for vouchers and charter schools.

Rauner also said he wants to give districts more flexibility in bargaining - something that unions are against.  Rauner also says he's willing to revisit how the state funds schools.

Funding for higher education has been held up as part of the partisan standoff.

But, an Illinois lawmaker is proposing a measure to provide some fund for higher education and MAP grants.

House minority leader Jim Durkin says the proposal would fund colleges and universities at an 80-percent level for the current fiscal year.

"We've worked with the college presidents, asking them, 'where is an acceptable area where you can operate under cuts-wise with monies they receive from state government?' And, we've come up with 20-percent. That has been a percentage of cuts the presidents have stated they can live with."

SIU President Randy Dunn says he's in favor of talk about providing funds for higher education. But, he says Durkin's bill comes up with the condition that the governor is allowed flexibility in crafting a budget.

"While I'm glad to see an effort being made and we're now on the radar for some attention, I think that bill is going to be a tough one moving forward."

Dunn says he's encouraged about proposals that also include funds for MAP grants.