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Rauner’s State of State plea to Senate: ‘Please don’t give up’

Gov. Bruce Rauner greets lawmakers as he enters the Illinois House chamber to deliver his State of the State address in the Illinois House chamber Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017 in Springfield. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP)

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday pushed for economic growth to save the state in his third State of the State address — while saying he’s encouraged that the legislative leaders have acknowledged changes must be made.

The governor delivered his address before the Illinois General Assembly with an air of hope — as senators work to try to finesse a budget package of 13 bills dubbed a “grand bargain.” He also posed a fix to the state’s dire financial picture — and 18 months of a budget impasse — as a “moral obligation.”

“All of us – Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between – have a moral obligation to work together to bring change,” the governor said, adding he’s “deeply optimistic” about the future of the state.

The tone of optimism comes ahead of the governor’s re-election campaign, as many Democratic hopefuls have already begun their attacks on the governor.

Rauner went off script to thank senators and Senate leaders for their work on the package — which is the closest thing to a comprehensive budget the Illinois General Assembly has seen in some time.

“Thank you for working so hard to try to come together on a bipartisan basis to find a compromise, to get a truly balanced budget with changes to the system to help job creators and protect taxpayers,” Rauner said.

He also urged them to stay persistent.

“Please don’t give up. Please keep working. Please keep trying. The people of Illinois need you to succeed,” Rauner said.

Despite calls for cooperation, the governor pushed for two of his favored reforms: term limits and redistricting, which he said would “end the power of incumbency and special interest groups and give power back to the power of our state.”

He also called for changes to workers’ compensation to prevent misuse and abuse, and property tax relief to help families and businesses. Those are both to an extent included in the Senate package.

Chicago violence was highlighted in his address, a day after President Donald Trump said he’d push for federal help to try to squash the killings: “The violence occurring in Chicago every day is intolerable. We cannot let it continue. We’ve got to bring it to an end.”

“With the right mix of policies — with a joint commitment between the city, the county, the state and the federal government — we can and must find solutions to curb the violence,” Rauner said.

Rauner said he supports a public-private partnership — with the Illinois General Assembly’s approval — to create managed lanes on the Stevenson Expressway paid for by private investors. It would entail one dedicated lane in each direction where motorists can pay a toll to use the lane to bypass traffic.

He also talked of his hopes to create a technology and innovation center in the Midwest “that can rival Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle, creating tens of thousands of high-paying jobs.”

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who earlier this month said he’d push for his own economic agenda to help the state, said in a response that there’s a definite need to take steps to improve the business climate and create new jobs.

But he warned that House Democrats will work to protect the middle class.

“House Democrats reject the idea that the only way to create jobs in Illinois is to cut wages and strip away workplace protections in order to pad the profits of big corporations,” the speaker said in a statement. “Instead, we will work to advance an agenda of positive economic reforms that improve the business climate without hurting the middle class.”

Madigan said providing jobs for working families while also passing policies to help businesses grow are “not mutually exclusive to one another.”

“Under my direction, the House will begin a thorough vetting process of proposals that will enable us to create jobs while also lifting up and helping the middle class and struggling families around our state,” Madigan said.

It’s still unclear how receptive the House will be to the Senate package if it clears that chamber — some House members are leery of its revenue package. And speaking after the address, Rep. Lou Lang, representing House Democrats, said they’d propose their own capital bill, as well as bills promoting the speaker’s economic reforms. That includes a reinstatement of the EDGE tax credit for businesses to create jobs and increase the earned income tax credit. And it would also include an increase in the minimum wage and a tax on millionaires — which Madigan has touted for years — to fund schools.

Meanwhile, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton responded to the governor’s address with the hope that a deal is near with the Senate package.

“The Senate is well aware of the state of our state. That’s why we are working together to put an end to the budget impasse and restore economic stability to Illinois. Our state is filled with wonderful people and places. It is state government that has failed and fallen behind,” Cullerton said in a statement. “Our efforts continue in the Senate to turn this around and I remain optimistic that we are near an agreement.”

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who has been a staunch critic of Rauner, said the governor isn’t feeling the “pain” that social service providers and universities are enduring under the impasse.

“I don’t think he knows that they’re in pain. It seemed like full of ‘alternative facts’ which is just consistent with this administration. The real facts are that we have not ever been worse off than we are today,” Mendoza said. “Over the last two years, this state in every category that you’d like to judge is worse off. The tax rate dropped yet we’re still bleeding out jobs. It’s every aspect. Look at every economic factor that we can measure the state is worse off. The only economy that has been improved is the governor’s personal finances.”

Mendoza said the governor shows a “real disconnect” and “can’t relate” to struggling families in the state. She said he is failing to fulfill his “most basic constitutional obligation” — proposing a balanced budget: “It’s time for him to lead. That’s why we have the office of the governor. If he doesn’t want to do the job, he shouldn’t have run for it.”

The comptroller called the governor’s push for reforms “pet projects” that have resulted in the state not having a budget.

She also cautioned that the state is sitting on “hundreds of millions of dollars” in interest penalty payment fees “that will never be invested in people.”

The state’s Legislative Black Caucus said the governor missed some key pieces in his address, including funding help for higher education, senior services and non-profits that support mental health issues and people with disabilities.

“Action requires investments and we know that our programs need to be funded and yet there wasn’t really real solutions discussed. I don’t know that he really created the real picture of the state of the state,” State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago, said. “There’s a lot of dire needs and a number of areas and they’re not just in the city of Chicago. They’re in North Chicago. They’re in Waukegan. They’re in East St. Louis. There’s dire needs all over this state.”

Many affected by the impasse were critical of the address, including SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana and Access Living. In a statement, the two said he failed to propose specific revenue solutions and ideas to help support non-profits and service providers.

Among supporters of Rauner’s speech was the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, which applauded the governor for focusing on balancing the state budget and strengthening the economy to make the state more competitive.

“It’s time for both parties to work across the aisle to achieve meaningful reform that will put our state’s fiscal house in order, enact pro-business reforms, strengthen our education and workforce system, and tackle property tax reform that shifts the burden unfairly to commercial and industrial taxpayers,” the group said.