For months, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been taking his anti-union, right-to-work “Turnaround Agenda” on tour around the state, most notably making a stop last week before Chicago’s City Council.
As the clock ticks toward the end of this legislative session, lawmakers seem to have a Turnaround Agenda of their own they’d like to impose on Rauner:
Turn around — and get your behind to Springfield.
They say the platitudes Rauner relies on in his fist-pounding, post-campaign campaign fail to contribute one red cent to balancing the state’s ledger.
It’s May. There are three weeks to find agreement on how to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis.
Legislators say the governor — who promised he’d be a larger-than-life presence in Springfield — instead is pouring his energy into a futile anti-union fight — after offering up a budget with billions in false savings that the nonpartisan Civic Federation called unachievable.
Lawmakers also take issue with his style, complaining that Rauner treats them like “middle management.” They say his aides have taken a position that the budget is their problem, and unless they agree to the governor’s wishes, he’ll keep cutting services.
“He must think we’re going to come to him and say: ‘We’ll do whatever you want, just let us pass a tax increase because we need it so much,’ ” says Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
“As if the state budget is our problem and, whether we have a state budget or not, it’s not a big deal for him.”
Cullerton says Rauner is mistaken if he thinks his hand is strengthened after the May 31 deadline passes when legislators must present a balanced budget. He argues that if the Legislature goes into overtime, the areas the governor wants to cut will instead automatically get funded by law — including Medicaid.
“What would be shortchanged would be what he cares about — education,” Cullerton says. “He doesn’t have the leverage he thinks he has. Obviously, you can be elected governor and know nothing about the office. [Ex-Gov. Rod] Blagojevich did it twice. It wasn’t just Rauner.”
Rauner, a multimillionaire venture capitalist, boasted he’d be successful in Springfield because he knows how to cut a deal — and blasted then-Gov. Pat Quinn as an ineffective leader.
But lawmakers say he’s still in campaign mode when it’s time to get down to business.
They’re also still reeling after thinking they had a deal to fix the last fiscal year’s budget, only to face the “Good Friday Massacre” in which the governor slashed $26 million, including spending for immigrant groups, epilepsy services and autism services — on World Autism Day.
“I have trouble working with him because he is always in attack mode,” says state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. “He’s not interested in coming to agreement. He’s treating the state as if it’s one of his businesses. He’s the boss, and we are all of his employees. The governor is acting like he’s the boss of Illinois, not like he’s the governor of Illinois. It’s not a good style of governing if you want to get something done.”
Rauner faults lawmakers for giving out sweetheart deals, including to unions, that have worsened Illinois’ fiscal decline. The governor’s office says it continues to negotiate in good faith with lawmakers in working groups.
Lang has a different view of the groups.
“It’s like the bully in the playground,” he says. “They set an agenda with things they want to accomplish, then say, ‘Let’s negotiate how to get there.’ They’re flabbergasted that people might actually be in disagreement with what they set out in their agenda.
“Our super-majority can work with him if he’s willing to listen, but not if he thinks he’s going to move us around like checkers on a checkerboard,” Lang says. “I’m not his middle management. I’m an elected official with a heart and mind of my own. If you want to negotiate and you want to move the ball forward, you have to be willing to listen to both sides.”
Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, says Rauner has listened.
“The governor has done a very good job of discussing priorities with each individual member but also emphasizing that the spending in the past is no longer acceptable,” Durkin says. “I don’t believe the governor’s plan for a more austere state budget is being met with enthusiasm with the majority party, which is starting to raise the rhetoric within the chamber.”
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, credits Rauner for allowing dissent in conversations with lawmakers — something Franks says Quinn and Blagojevich wouldn’t do.
But Franks also says: “I think his focus would have been better spent almost entirely on the budget. . . . We really haven’t gotten to the heart of the budget yet. He’s been talking about putting forth bills for some time, and we haven’t seen any. You don’t want to govern by press release. You’re not going to get very far.”