LISTEN: Gov. Rauner Delivers State Of The State Address - Reaction And Analysis

Jan 28, 2016
Originally published on January 28, 2016 5:08 am


Gov. 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," he said.

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."

Rauner introduced plans to redesign how the government contracts services and buys goods, to modernize technology and to reduce the prison population, and he announced that he's taken steps to move the state's economic development agency into a private model.

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," he said. "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. 

Gov. Bruce Rauner says he wants to focus on improving Illinois schools and offering ``quality school choice options'' for low-income students.  

Rauner said during his State of the State speech Wednesday he wants to direct more money to elementary and high school classrooms and early childhood education. He also says he wants to hold schools ``truly accountable for results.''  

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

The Republican has been a big supporter of charter schools, which typically are not unionized and which some Democrats oppose. Rauner and his wife also have donated significant money to help Chicago Public Schools.  

But reforming Illinois schools wasn't a big emphasis of Rauner's first year in office.  

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton has said overhauling the way Illinois funds schools to make it more equitable is a top 2016 priority.

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Rauner says lawmakers should try to fix the state's underfunded pension system by giving Illinois workers a choice on reduced benefits.  

The Republican governor told lawmakers Wednesday during his State of the State address about a plan he's working on with Democratic Senate President John Cullerton. It would give employees a choice between keeping cost-of-living increases in retirement and counting future raises when figuring retirement benefits.

But there's disagreement about whether the plan should include a provision that takes salary increases out of the collective bargaining process. Rauner wants that, but Cullerton does not. Both say they're willing to continue working to agree on a measure.  

 Illinois has the worst-funded pension system of any U.S. state and is roughly $111 billion in debt.  

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Gov. Bruce Rauner wants reforms to the Illinois' criminal justice system to reduce the prison population.  

Rauner told lawmakers he wants to lower the prison population by 25 percent by 2025 by implementing suggestions from a commission he convened last year to study the issue.  

Rauner made comments during his second State of the State address Wednesday.  

He says the state should pursue programs that reduce recidivism and help inmates acclimate back into society and emphasize rehabilitation over imprisonment for some low-level offenders.  

Rauner says the commissions reforms ``will lead to fewer victims of crimes, a pathway back for ex-offenders, and safer communities for all.''  

Illinois' prison population has grown from 6,000 in 1974 to about 49,000 presently. The state spends $1.3 billion annually on prisons.

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