Gov. Bruce Rauner, depicted by some lawmakers as a “my way or the highway” negotiator, conceded on Thursday that he has taken some of his Turnaround Agenda items off the table in negotiations with state lawmakers.
Rauner also said he recognizes he needs to rethink his strategy to reform pensions in Illinois.
Rauner spoke to reporters in the state Capitol on Thursday before the Illinois House was preparing to vote down right-to-work legislation drawn up by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Republicans dismissed the vote as political theater while Democrats say the vote comes in an effort to put the issue behind lawmakers and focus on the budget.
Asked if his proposal for reform was just too broad, Rauner said: “No, I don’t think so at all, they pass 600 bills a year. “We’re gonna ask for passing eight or nine. It’s very doable, and we’re going to ask that they do it by May 31,” Rauner said. “We have taken a number of things off the table. I’m not ready to tell you which ones yet, but we will shortly . . . this is all part of a negotiation and a compromise. Everybody’s gonna have to compromise.”
Although according a to a tweet by a high-level Rauner staffer during the House debate, right-to-work zones are still being discussed.
While "debating" sham bill, Democratic lawmaker admits negotiations over employee empowerment zones are ongoing. #twill— Mike Schrimpf (@mike_schrimpf) May 14, 2015
Rauner acknowledged that he met with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Wednesday, when the two discussed finding a constitutional path to curbing pension costs.
“Had a very productive discussion yesterday with President Cullerton, talking about pensions. We went through in detail some of his recommendations,” he said. “I think we all have some concerns now with the Supreme Court’s ruling over what’s constitutional, and we got some concerns over whether his ideas will work. We have some concerns over whether our ideas will work. We are feverishly endeavoring to come up with a solution that we have a high confidence level will pass constitutional muster. We can’t afford to spend years in court and end up like we did here without change.
“I continue to be cautiously optimistic. My goal is to meet with you in the not-too-distant future and walk you through where we’re at . . . in the near future we’d like to give you guys an update on the specifics. But we’re working it hard, we’re making some progress.
“Unfortunately their ruling was broad and tough and not crystal clear. It leaves open to doubt a number of different scenarios. We’ve got to look at a number of options we look at, I think, simultaneously.”
Asked whether the vote on right-to-work was meant to embarrass him, Rauner said: “Difficult negotiations in government often involve political theater that’s a little bit of what that is. I don’t take it that way. This is just part of a political process. We’re working together and we’ll get through it. . . . There’s a lot of pressure from special-interest groups who don’t want to change. We are in a long slow decline we need to grow pretty strongly . . . we are encouraging Republicans to stay strong together. We’re a super-minority.
“My process is all about good communication. I’ve tried to stay open. That’s why I’ve had so many meetings and meals with the legislators. I got to know most of them pretty well personally. I’ve developed some good friendships on both sides of the aisle,” Rauner told reporters. “It’s all about working together and finding compromise.”
Asked about the secretive working groups — involved in closed-door negotiating — and whether his administration was far from executing the transparency he had promised during his campaign, Rauner said: “Well, see. I don’t control 100 percent of the process. I control what comes out of our office and what we say. I don’t think I could be more transparent. Our budget was out early. Our Turnaround Agenda was out early. I laid out everything we’re workin’ on and why. I don’t think we could have been more crystal clear from our point of view.”
Rauner said he would come forward in the near future with more details.
He said he doesn’t contribute to the Illinois Policy Institute now that he’s governor. And he wouldn’t comment on an article published this week by the institute that called for laying off all state workers.
“Somebody told me they wrote something about that. I don’t know, I can’t comment on that. That sounds a little — I don’t know. I can’t even comment on that,” Rauner responded.
Asked if state workers should be worried about a strike or being laid off, he said: “I don’t know, hopefully not. We’re going to negotiate in good faith. We’ve got to make some big changes. Changes are hard. . . . I believe we have to have a different compensation structure. I’d like to be able to pay people more. But I’d like it to be based on productivity and saving people money not only on seniority. . . . We need a system that’s affordable and also incentivizes everyone to save taxpayer money.”
Rauner has been criticized for giving his hires some of the highest salaries in state government, including $250,000 for an education secretary; at least $225,000 for his education superintendent; $30,000 a month for a budget adviser.
Here’s link to the raw audio.