Well work on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget started yesterday with a 7 mega committees of
legislators and the Governor’s people with only 33 days left in this legislative session. The
budgeteers are looking at a $6 billion hole if new revenue is not included so a new budget
without any new income would be devastating to everyone. It looks to me like an overtime
session this summer for legislators meaning it will require a super majority to pass any
Meanwhile as of this morning, Senate Bill 274 which restores the cuts to disability grants
including The Autism Program, Illinois Life Span and more remains in the House Rules
Committee. Call your Representative and ask them to support and pass SB 274!
Interesting perspective on the Governor’s first 100 days from Eric Zorn and Kristen
McQueary in today’s Chicago Tribune.
Rauner’s first 100 days
Is the new governor on track or off the rails?
In the Common Sense Caucus today, Tribune columnist Eric Zorn and Tribune Editorial
Board member Kristen McQueary discuss the early months of the administration of Illinois
Gov. Bruce Rauner.
To Kristen: Our new Republican governor observed his 100th day in office last week, a
milestone at which it’s customary to take stock. So, shall we?
My view, which won’t surprise you, is that he’s stumbled out of the gate — that he’s
needlessly launched a war on organized labor, needlessly antagonized the Democrats who
control the General Assembly and needlessly played political games with the lives of
Yes, he inherited a phony budget passed last spring by Democrats who were political
cowards. They knew, as Rauner knew, that without an extension of the state income tax
rate hike that expired Jan. 1, we were roughly $1.6 billion short for the budget year that
ends June 30 and about $6.2 billion short for the next budget year. He didn’t try to avert
the crisis by negotiating for an extension. He embraced it.
“Crisis creates opportunity for change,” he said during a recent speech at an Illinois
Chamber of Commerce event, referring to the painful social service cuts associated
with a 21 percent drop in income tax revenue. “We’ve got to take advantage of that.”
So in recent weeks the governor has been holding out the threat of far greater cuts next
year as leverage to try to whip up support for the anti-union elements of his so-called
He is clearly of the belief that further weakening organized labor and eroding employees’
rights will ultimately be a boon to Illinois’ working families.
I don’t think he’s right. I don’t think picking fights, making hostages of suffering people
and playing this long game in the face of so many short-term emergencies constitutes
Rauner told us before and after the election that he’s a “problem solver.” But since he’s
been governor, he’s looking to me more like an ax grinder.
How’s he looking to you? To Eric: We agree on something. While I give Rauner credit for
staying firm amid the perpetual budget crisis that Democrats created, I question his
aggressive posture toward organized labor right out of the box.
Illinois is not Wisconsin.
As you’ll recall, Wisconsin’s newly elected governor, Scott Walker, introduced legislation in
2011 that weakened collective bargaining. He did so with the backing of a Republican-
controlledlegislature. He moved quickly. He introduced his plan in February, and by March,
he signed it into law.
Rauner must deal with the reality that Democrats hold supermajorities in the Illinois House
and Senate, and about a third of Republicans in Springfield are aligned with organized
labor. Most Downstate Republicans are not Rauner’s brand of fiscal conservatism. They
are supported and protected by labor unions and vote thusly.
So Rauner’s chance of getting Walker-esque legislation passed here is close to zilch.
The numbers just aren’t there.
A smarter strategy would have been to sit tight on right-to-work legislation and instead
take a hard line with unions at the bargaining table. The contract for the largest state
worker union expires in June. And the state is broke. That’s his leverage.
To Eric, here’s where we part ways: You defend extending an income tax increase that
Democrats rammed through in January 2011 in the middle of the night when many
lawmakers were lame ducks. Those lame ducks could vote for the state’s biggest tax hike
without facing voters afterward. That’s double-crossing.
But that’s not all. The Democrats passed a 67 percent income tax hike before they did
any serious cost-cutting of state government. They had not significantly reformed
Medicaid or dealt with the growing pension liability, and they continued to spend more
money than the state was taking in.
Then they sold the tax hike as temporary.
Why didn’t Democratic leaders make an honest case for a 5 percent permanent income
tax? Because they view taxpayers as suckers.
Eric, I don’t know how high your tolerance is for underhanded machinations, but that
middle-of-the-night “temporary” tax hike was a boldfaced illustration of how Democrats
have governed this state with complete dysfunction. Nothing Rauner has done
compares to that.
To Kristen: Democratic leaders don’t view taxpayers as suckers. They view them as
what pundit Michael Kinsley called “big babies,” people who, as he wrote “make flagrantly
incompatible demands — cut my taxes, preserve my benefits, balance the budget —
then explode in self-righteous outrage when the politicians fail to deliver.”
The Democrats’ move to hike tax rates in a lame-duck session wasn’t underhanded, it
was simply cowardly. Asking citizens to pay for the level of government they want and
expect requires more bravery than most politicians have, especially when the bill
coming due includes debts accrued over years of budgetary pusillanimity.
That tax hike was responsible. It allowed Illinois to make its required pension payments
and catch up on some overdue bills, though not nearly to the extent the Democrats
hoped. Even the tax-averse Civic Federation said it needed to be extended into this year
to avert damaging shocks to the state.
But whatever. I don’t want to let you lure me into a debate over the past; a debate Rauner
won at the polls last November when he beat incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
Let’s look forward. Rauner has included in his budget plan for next year $2.2 billion in
pension-investment savings he hopes to claim by passing an amendment to the state that
will allow for dramatic reductions in public-pension benefits.
And he says that, even still, the only way to avoid drastic cuts to health care for children
and the poor, to higher education, to public transportation and on and on is for the Genera
l Assembly to stick it to the unions, at which point, if the resulting economic miracle is a bit
slow to transpire, he might allow for a few new taxes to tide us over.
Kristen, how high is your tolerance for fantasy? Rauner seems to think Illinois is a
company he’s taken over and can slash away at with impunity. His job-approval rating
released last week was 40 percent — just a tick below Scott Walker’s similarly anemic
approval rating. And if Rauner doesn’t start building consensus and meeting his political
foes halfway, he might have even you feeling nostalgic for the Quinn years.
To Eric: I disagree with your characterization of voters as unreasonable and irrational.
Voters elected Rauner and supported the income tax rolling back — remember, at 3.75
percent it’s still higher than the 3 percent rate before the hike — because they
understood that sending more money to Springfield wasn’t solving the state’s problems.
And, yes, voters do want bravery. They are willing to pay more in taxes if they believe
money is being spent responsibly. Like I said, it’s the manner in which the Democrats
sought that tax increase, not the increase itself.
Here’s where your argument gets squishy. Lawmakers are dealing with two moving parts
right now: the budget we’re currently in, which ends June 30, and the budget for the next
fiscal year, which begins July 1. The service cuts over which Rauner is getting whacked
are for this fiscal year — the phony, half-baked budget he got handed on his inauguration
day. Even Democrats admitted the budget was reckless because it underfunded services.
Now everyone is surprised that services are getting cut?
On this we agree: The $2.2 billion pension savings you reference is part of a Rauner
proposal for next year’s budget, the one that starts July 1. And, yes, it’s fuzzy math. No
way can the state count on that savings by next year, even if his plan passes the General
But it’s hyperbole to connect all these floating dots and make a sweeping suggestion that
Rauner is … what? Union-busting in order to create cost savings while still sticking it to
the poor? Sounds like pure Democrat talking points to me.
As I’ve said repeatedly: These cuts are not motive-driven. They’re math-driven. Rauner’s
department heads took a line-by-line look at their budgets and tried to figure out the best-
worst plan, given what the Democrats left them. Read that again: the best-worst plan.
Eric, I couldn’t care less about Rauner’s approval ratings four months on the job. That’s
Talk to me in four years when Illinois is no longer being perpetually managed on a
Join the conversation at chicago tribune.com/zorn Twitter: @ericzorn;
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423