Rauner: Illinois Needs To Be More Competitive

Feb 4, 2015

Some of the big ideas Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner outlined in first his State of the State Address aren’t likely to get very far.

Rauner acknowledged up front that voters elected him - a Republican - and supermajority of Democrats in the legislature.

"They don’t want partisan bickering, political infightin', or personal conflict to get in the way of servin' the needs of the families of Illinois," Rauner said.

Rauner spoke of inequities in granting contracts to minority-owned companies, and prison conditions that he called “unacceptable.”

Many Democrats say they support those initiatives. But they are already bristling at Rauner’s insistence that labor unions are to blame for the state’s financial problems.

Last week, health and human service agencies began to run out of grant funding leftover from the previous administration.

Rauner says he wants local governments to create so-called Right to Work laws - similar to those that caused major protests in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Democrats like west suburban State Senator Linda Holmes say unions are the organizations that helped create the middle class - and attacking them won’t fix the state’s financial problems.

State Senator Sam McCann, a Republican from Carlinville, says he represents a lot of state employees.

"I nor none of my colleagues in the General Assembly work for the governor," McCann said. "We work for the people, who sent us here to work with the governor and other members of the executive branch to make Illinois better."

McCann says many of his constituents view union membership as a path to a middle-class life.

Rauner did tackle the issue of raising the minimum wage. His plan includes raising the state's $8.25 minimum to $10 an hour over seven years.

Despite a decline in unemployment in the past year, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner says changes are needed to prevent the loss of jobs in the state.  

In his State of the State Address, Rauner said Illinois needs to become more competitive, and he pointed to the worker's compensation system as place to start.

"We can create a common sense system that protects and fairly compensates those injured on the job, while also assuring both public and private employers are not overburdened by an irrational system."

Rauner also says he doesn't just want Illinois to be competitive – he also wants it to be compassionate. Representative Greg Harris, a Democrat from Chicago, says the speech emphasized the state's business climate over the state's needs.

"They do not mention that they have just eliminated violence prevention funding, like Governor Rauner did over the weekend," Harris said. "They don't mention that they just eliminated employment funding for at-risk youth. Those are unpleasant truths."

A recent study found Illinois' system the 7th most expensive in the nation. Lawmakers and the previous Governor approved changes in 2011 to reduce costs, but businesses want to see more done. 

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, won't shut the door.

"We are prepared to go back on the issue, consider the Governor's ideas and see if we can't show some progress."

Among Rauner's ideas are changing guidelines for what is determined "impairment" from an injury. 

Rauner's pre-election claim to fame, other than his successful business carreer, was his work in the education community. He ran for office on a promise to increase funding to classrooms, and rethink how money is funneled from the state down to schools.

Sen. Jason Barrickman, a Republican from Bloomington, says he heard positive suggestions from Rauner in his State of the State address yesterday.

"The governor's about structural reforms to all levels of government," Barrickman said. "And within the education community, I think we've laid out the case for a structural reform to how we fund our public schools."

Senator Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, says he's glad the governor put education at the forefront of his goals.

"The governor calling for that today I think sets a good, positive step forward," Manar said. "I would reiterate, though, that simply spending more doesn't drive those resources to the neediest districts in the state. That requires a change in the state aid formula."

Manar has been working for more than a year on a change to that aid formula. His plan would distribute more state money to poorer schools, and give less to wealthier districts.

Editor's Note: Tony Arnold, Hannah Meisel, Brian Mackey and Sean Crawford contributed to this report.