Bruce Rauner couldn’t whack unions enough when he was running for governor. They were, to his thinking, a big part of what’s holding Illinois down.
But in his State of the State address Wednesday, Rauner said hardly a word about organized labor. If he touched on his problem with unions at all, it was subtly. He called for “tearing down the barriers” to “good jobs.” If we know our Rauner-speak, the biggest barrier would be unions.
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At a time when leaders in the Illinois Senate are struggling to strike an improbable “grand bargain” that might finally address our state’s enormous financial problems, Rauner’s decision not to take a poke at unions, even public ones, struck us as diplomatic, even hopeful. At least he set off no bombs.
Rauner further signaled his potential support for a bipartisan grand bargain when, in the only significant departure from his prepared remarks, he called out for praise for the two Senate leaders pushing the scheme, President John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. “Please don’t give up,” he said.
We’re not naive. Reading tea leaves in Springfield is a sucker’s game. There’s a good argument the governor is just positioning himself to look like the reasonable man — as opposed to his political nemesis, House Speaker Mike Madigan — when the grand bargain falls apart, which it likely will, long before it gets to his desk.
But Rauner’s support for Cullerton and Radogno was promising, as was his assurance to members of the Sun-Times Editorial Board after the speech that while he’s looking for some of his pro-business reforms to be included in any final deal, there is “no thing that absolutely has to be there.”
We remain convinced the best solution to Illinois’ financial mess, unfortunately, is for Springfield to make the sausage in the ugliest way possible. The grand bargain would give everybody something of what they want, and give them all reason to scream. It would, as of the latest negotiations, raise income tax rates, slap a separate charge on small businesses, expand the sales tax to cover services such as dry cleaners, impose term limits on legislative leaders (the guv loves that one), give Chicago a casino, change the state’s school aid formula to increase funding to poorer districts and much more.
If passed by the Senate, the grand bargain faces a miserable prospect in the House. Madigan has opposed, as a matter of principle, any budget negotiations that include consideration of Rauner’s pro-business reforms. Nor can we be sure where Rauner finally will come down.
But we do know this: If the grand bargain falls apart, the chance of a deal being reached before the 2018 elections grows infinitesimally small. Election-year politics will kill all hope.
And Illinois will continue to fall apart.
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