SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday painted his side of the budget-impasse picture, saying that while his department heads are saving the state millions, he needs his agenda items to restore faith in Illinois government and invigorate the economy.
Democrats said the governor’s speech was just more of the same and argued that Rauner needs to address the budget crisis without making his proposals preconditions.
Speaking to a business group in Oak Lawn, the governor said his ideas aren’t about Republicans versus Democrats, but about breaking a cycle of deficit spending and tax increases.
“The key question is, ‘Will we stay on this failed path of the status quo or will we change direction?’” Rauner said.
Restoring faith in government, he said, “is the single most important thing we can do.”
The governor particularly emphasized giving local governments the option to cut back the areas addressable in collective bargaining with public employees.
“It is a critical bipartisan issue where we can find common ground,” Rauner said. “Getting rid of unfunded mandates and giving decision making authority on bargaining, bidding and contracting back to local communities can save taxpayers billions.”
The first-term Republican governor also challenged legislative Democrats to either join him or pass a tax increase.
“If you block reforms, then use your supermajority to pass your own tax increase to pay for the spending level that you want. But choose now … the people of Illinois have been waiting long enough.”
Speaker of the House Michael Madigan of Chicago, who is also the state’s Democratic Party chairman, sees things differently.
“As I have stated since January, the No. 1 issue facing the state is the budget deficit. The governor, however, has refused to focus on solving our budget deficit, instead focusing on other issues,” Madigan said in a news release.
Madigan and other Democrats say the governor’s calls for diminished collective bargaining in the public sector, elimination of prevailing wage rules for public projects and changes to the state’s workers' compensation system would hurt the middle class.
"I've stated all year that I will work with the governor cooperatively and professionally, but we will not devastate Illinois' middle class and struggling families by furthering an agenda aimed at driving down their wages and their standard of living,” Madigan said.
Madigan says the governor’s refusal to work on this year’s budget has led to cuts in programs including child care for struggling families, meals for the homebound elderly and services for people with disabilities.
Illinois is now in its fourth month of fiscal year 2016 without a budget.
Rauner and the GOP argue Democrats have proposed a plan billions heavier in spending than revenue. While Rauner says he’s willing to discuss new revenue, he says he won’t sign off until he gets at least some of his agenda items, which he considers to be fundamental reforms.
Democrats complain Rauner and the GOP have been unwilling to work with them until the governor gets what he wants, and they don’t consider his “Turnaround Agenda” items directly related to the annual budget.
Rauner answers that his proposals are necessary to improve the state's economy and retain jobs and population.
Meanwhile, the state remains largely budgetless, with primary and secondary education the largest exceptions.
But even without a master budget, the state is spending at a clip said to be driving it toward a $5 billion shortfall for the budget year.
There’s been little in the way of actual movement from either side, and the General Assembly isn’t scheduled to return to Springfield until Oct. 20.
Widespread speculation in the capital is that the calendar year may run out before much, if anything, changes. Further, analysts say Illinois could find itself flat broke in the spring, months short of the June 30, 2016, conclusion of the fiscal year.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for the Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute.